Office of the President

June 26, 2017

Counting the true cost of cuts to research funding

Ana Mari Cauce

Funding by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has supported countless discoveries that have saved or improved millions of lives, from Dr. Mary-Claire King’s discovery of the BRCA1 breast cancer gene to new, more accurate diagnostic tools for Alzheimer’s disease.  As I’ve written before, the President’s budget proposal would dramatically cut NIH’s research funding, slowing progress in understanding and curing diseases that ultimately affect nearly every single American in some form.

This week, I reached out to the U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and the Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney to share our concerns about the very real ways in which those funding cuts could not merely impede but actually dismantle our nation’s biomedical research and discovery ecosystem, now the envy of the world.

Among the changes proposed in the budget are significant cuts to Facilities and Administration or F&A reimbursements (also known as indirect research costs). While direct costs like researcher pay and lab equipment are the expenses the public most associates with research, F&A costs are real and necessary expenses that are just as integral to research. Like the plumbing and wiring that make a building inhabitable, F&A covers essential infrastructure that a university’s labs and researchers all rely on, like secure computing systems, high-speed data processing and storage, radiation and chemical safety precautions, and personnel costs associated with meeting federal and state regulations related to the safety of human subjects, to name a few. Just as four walls and a roof are not enough to make a house livable, without the infrastructure covered by F&A, universities cannot conduct the kinds of cutting-edge research that results in cures and treatments that save lives.

Even under current law, F&A reimbursements do not cover the full cost of conducting research. The UW is able to make up the difference, effectively subsidizing federal research spending. But if these drastic cuts take effect, it would be impossible to provide the level of support that currently keeps our research efforts moving forward.

The UW and the many people who benefit from our biomedical research would suffer from this budget, and across the country, research universities, especially public institutions, would suffer as well. It would devastate the national biomedical research community and the economy built on research discoveries, leading to a decline in the number of biomedical start-ups based in the U.S. At a minimum, discovery would be slowed, but worse, the loss in momentum nationally to our research breakthroughs would cost many lives that could have been saved.

There is a clear and compelling case for the national interest we all share in federal investment in biomedical research and discovery. I invite and encourage all who care about this issue – and I believe that’s all of us – to raise your voices as well.