FY17 Appropriations Bills: National Institutes of Health

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Publication date: 
27 July 2016

House and Senate appropriators are seeking to reverse the administration’s proposed 3.1 percent discretionary funding cut to the National Institutes of Health and instead boost the agency’s budget by as much as $2 billion above current levels. Under their proposals, all NIH research institutes would see increases.

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have completed work on the fiscal year 2017 Labor-Health and Human Services-Education appropriations bill that funds the National Institutes of Health. While neither full chamber has yet considered the bill, both committees approved reports that provide policy guidance and detailed spending proposals for the biomedical research agency.

In the reports, the appropriators propose reversing the administration’s requested 3.1 percent cut in discretionary spending for NIH in fiscal year 2017 and significantly increasing NIH’s overall budget, including the budgets of four major NIH institutes connected to the physical sciences: the National Cancer Institute, National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, National Institute of General Medical Sciences, and National Institute on Deafness & Other Communications Disorder.

The House appropriators’ proposals and explanatory language are in the NIH section of the House Labor-HHS-Education committee report beginning on page 56. The corresponding section of the Senate Labor-HHS-Education committee report begins on page 81.

The below table compares the House and Senate spending proposals for NIH, based on the figures in the committee reports. Additional details are available in AIP’s Federal Science Budget Tracker.

FY17 NIH Appropriations Summary Table

Funding Line FY16
House Change
Senate Change
NIH 32,311 31,311 -3.1% 33,561 3.9% 34,311 6.2%
National Cancer Institute 5,214 5,097 -2.2% 5,338 2.4% 5,430 4.1%
National Institute of General Medical Sciences 2,512 2,434 -3.1% 2,584 2.8% 2,634 4.8%
National Institute on Deafness & Other Communications Disorders 423 416 -1.6% 434 2.6% 442 4.5%
National Institute of Biomedical Imaging & Bioengineering 344 334 -2.8% 357 3.9% 361 5.1%

* Excludes $1.825 billion in proposed mandatory spending, $680 million of which is for the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative.

** All figures are in millions of nominal U.S. dollars and are rounded to the nearest million. The percentages are calculated based on the unrounded figures.

Appropriators prioritize biomedical research, including BRAIN Initiative

Thus far, NIH stands out as a winner in this year’s congressional appropriations cycle. The Senate and House Appropriations Committees prioritized biomedical research in bipartisan fashion among other programs in the Labor-HHS-Education spending bill, approving major funding increases for NIH on June 9 and July 14, respectively.

NIH is already benefiting this year from a hefty $2 billion spending boost it received in the 2016 year-end spending bill. While the administration proposes in its fiscal year 2017 budget request to cut this budget plus up in half, by $1 billion or 3.1 percent, House and Senate appropriators have different ideas. They want to invest in the continued growth of NIH even in the face of a highly constrained federal budget environment. The Senate proposes to double down on last year’s increase, upping NIH’s budget by another $2 billion, while the House proposes a slightly more modest $1.25 billion increase.

Neither committee chose to include requested funds for the president’s newly proposed cancer moonshot initiative, which the administration would like Congress to support through a $755 million mandatory spending set aside split between NIH and the Food and Drug Administration. Pushing more effective coordination in the cancer community, the cancer moonshot initiative would link up with the National Photonics Initiative, an alliance of scientific societies uniting industry and academia to raise awareness of photonics, in order to coordinate the development of a cancer technology roadmap that identifies the most promising technologies that will accelerate the early detection of cancer.

At the House Appropriations Committee markup on July 14, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) offered an amendment to provide $750 million for the cancer moonshot initiative, but Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) opposed the amendment and criticized the administration for not yet fleshing out details. Appropriators are, however, proposing to increase discretionary funding for on the National Cancer Institute, which would serve as the hub of the cancer moonshot initiative.

Another of the administration’s requests, for the BRAIN Initiative to map individual cells and complex neural circuits that interact in the human brain, received support from both chambers’ appropriations committees. The House proposes to increase funding for the Initiative from $150 million in the current year to $195 million in fiscal year 2017, an amount equal to the administration’s request. The Senate would go even further, proposing an increase to $250 million.

Side-by-side comparison of House and Senate committee reports

Below are a set of expandable tabs which contain excerpts from the explanatory reports for NIH that accompany the House and Senate bills.

Prioritization of Biomedical Research

House: “First and foremost among these priority areas is to continue the investment made last year in biomedical research by increasing funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by $1,250,000,000. This builds on the $2,000,000,000 increase included in the fiscal year 2016 final bill and reverses the Administration’s proposed cut of $1,000,000,000 to the NIH, for an increase of $2,225,000,000 above the budget request.”

Senate: “The Committee recommendation includes $34,084,000,000 for the NIH, an increase of $2,000,000,000. The Committee strongly believes that in this difficult budget environment that the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill must continue to prioritize and recognize the essential role biomedical research plays in every American’s life.”

Extramural Basic Research Funding

House: “Basic Biomedical Research.—The purpose of basic research is to discover the nature and mechanics of disease and identify potential therapeutic avenues likely to lead to the prevention and treatment of human disease. Without this early scientific investigation, future development of treatments and cures would be impossible. Basic biomedical research must remain a key component of both the intramural and extramural research portfolio at the NIH. The Committee also requests NIH take actions to ensure the percentage of funding in the extramural research program on basic research does not fall below 55 percent of NIH resources.”

Funding Prioritization and Disease Burden

House: “Prioritization of Funding.—The Committee commends NIH for including formal consideration of disease burden as a “crucial” factor for aligning its research priorities within the new NIH-Wide Strategic Plan. The Committee expects NIH to prioritize Federal funds for medical research on discovery over outreach and education. NIH is expected to use the scientific strategic plan to prioritize funding. The Committee requests a report in the fiscal year 2018 budget request on how the NIH-wide strategic plan was reviewed and used to allocate resources for the fiscal year 2018 budget request and used during fiscal year 2017 to better focus resources to diseases with the significant opportunity to improve the current or future health of the American population.”

Senate: “Burden of Disease.— The Committee expects NIH to consider the burden of a disease when setting priorities and developing strategic plans across its Institutes and Centers. Diseases such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer affect a large portion of the population, especially the aging population. The impact of these diseases on patients and their families are substantial and costly. Targeting biomedical research funding toward these diseases is an important strategy to finding better treatments and cures. Further, the Committee commends the NIH on the inclusion of burden of disease as part of its NIH-Wide Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2016–2020. The Plan calls for the relative burdens of individual diseases and medical disorders to be regarded as crucial considerations in balancing the priorities of the Federal research portfolio. The Committee supports a focus on conditions in need of further funding such as chronic pain, including migraine and other treatment alternatives for chronic pain.”

Young Investigators

House: “Young Investigators.—The Committee expects NIH to report on actions it has taken to lower the median age at which investigators receive their first R01 awards annually in the fiscal year 2018 budget request and future budget requests. In addition, the NIH shall submit an accompanying plan outlining concrete steps to lower the median age at which individuals receive their first R01 award within 180 days of enactment. The Committee further expects NIH to convene a working group consisting of stakeholders from academia, young researchers, industry leaders, and government officials to move forward on this goal.”

Grant Success Rates

House: “The Committee expects the 3.9 percent increase of funds over the fiscal year 2016 level to support a success rate of no less than 20 percent with at least 11,175 new Research Project Grants (RPGs). The Committee strongly urges NIH to restore extramural support to at least 90 percent of all NIH funding. Further, NIH shall continue its focus on emerging investigators and first-time renewals of these young investigators with actions to significantly reduce the average age of an NIH-supported new investigator.”

Senate: “The Committee recommendation is estimated to support over 11,200 new and competing grants in fiscal year 2017, an increase of 4.2 percent above fiscal year 2016.”

Private Support for Unfunded Applications

House: “Partnerships to Find Private Support for Unfunded Applications.—The Committee commends NIH for its leadership to move forward with and expand the request for NIH to develop a new mechanism for public-private organizations to directly fund high quality unfunded applications from one IC to all ICs. The program will not only benefit applicants by helping connect them with potential funders, it allows the private funders to take advantage of NIH’s peer review system and reduce researcher application drafting time. The Committee requests that in fiscal year 2018 budget request, and future year budget requests, NIH report the annual number of applications supported and total annual dollar level of support provided through this mechanism to expanded research.”

Cancer Moonshot

House: “The Committee strongly supports the goals of the Cancer Moonshot initiative, to find cures for cancer and to reduce cancer mortality in the United States. While death rates have declined for all cancers combined, the disease continues to have a devastating impact on too many families. In fiscal year 2016, NIH expected to spend $5,700,000,000 on cancer research. The Committee continues the $195,000,000 used in fiscal year 2016 for this initiative. The Committee looks forward to the Cancer Moonshot spending details once the taskforce completes its work at the end of the calendar year.”

BRAIN Initiative

House: “The Committee provides a $45,000,000 increase for a total of $195,000,000 to NINDS, NICHD, NEI, NIA, NIDCD, NIAAA, NIDA, NIMH, NIBIB, and NCCIH on the same pro-rata basis as provided in the past. The Committee recognizes initiatives of this nature must maintain adequate funding to assure achievement of the goals and plan milestones. The Committee expects NIH to ensure the fiscal year 2018 budget request provides an appropriate level of funding to keep on track toward the plan’s milestones. Further, the Committee encourages the distribution of a reasonable portion of BRAIN research resources through co-funded projects in the IDeA program.”

Senate: “The Committee continues to support the BRAIN Initiative and provides $250,000,000 in fiscal year 2017. This is an increase of $100,000,000 above fiscal year 2016 and $55,000,000 above the budget request. The BRAIN Initiative is developing a more complete understanding of brain function and has the possibility of helping millions of people who suffer from a wide variety of neurological and psychiatric disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and traumatic brain injury.”


House: “The Committee notes the critical value of imaging research to support the NIH research portfolio. The Committee requests NIH provide an overview of imaging research throughout NIH with a description of how gaps are identified, and of the plans to address these gaps.”

Senate: “The Committee notes that imaging research occurs in multiple ICs throughout the NIH and is an integral component of the BRAIN Initiative. The Committee requests NIH provide an overview of imaging research throughout all NIH activities, including collaborations with other HHS and non-HHS agencies. The Committee requests this information be included in the fiscal year 2018 CJ.”

Radiation Oncology

House: “The Committee encourages support for high quality meritorious radiation oncology research. The Committee requests an update in the fiscal year 2018 budget request on efforts to support radiation therapy’s role in the development and adoption of new combination therapies.”

Senate: “It is increasingly evident that combination therapy-involving radiation therapy, surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and/or precision therapy-provides the best treatment options for many cancer patients. The Committee applauds the recent funding announcement for Cooperative Agreements to Develop Targeted Agents for Use with Systemic Agents Plus Radiotherapy and supports the NCI’s prioritization of breaking down the existing silos, fostering a collaboration of the best scientists in far reaching fields.”

Science Education Partnership Awards

Senate: “SEPA fosters important connections between biomedical researchers and K–12 teachers and their students. These connections establish an education pipeline to careers in biomedical sciences, which is one of the most important areas of workforce development for the U.S. economy. Therefore, NIH is directed to continue funding the SEPA program at no less than $17,100,000, the fiscal year 2016 level. Further, because of the central role NIGMS plays in managing programs that support the development of the biomedical research workforce, the Committee transfers the SEPA program from OD to NIGMS.”


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