On November 29, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) President-Elect Thomas O. Baldwin, PhD, spoke at a Capitol Hill briefing organized by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB). The event explored the impact that another “continuing resolution” (CR) would have on biomedical research.
Dr. Baldwin acknowledged that it is critical to keep federal agencies operating, but failing to complete work on the fiscal year (FY) 2017 appropriations bills would have serious consequences for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the lifesaving research it supports in every state and nearly all congressional districts. Consistent with previous CRs, NIH notified researchers with existing grants that while under a CR they will continue to be funded but at a rate that is ten percent below their Notice of Award. Baldwin explained that the impact of this funding reduction will vary from lab to lab. Some investigators may have to delay purchasing much-needed equipment, and others will not be able to take on new graduate students or trainees.
He also shared a story about a former student who moved on to a successful career as an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Dallas. This individual recently submitted his first NIH grant application. Although the grant received strong reviews and a very high score, it will not be funded while NIH is operating under a CR. NIH generally cannot commit resources to new grants until they know the budget outlook for the remainder of the fiscal year.
Congress is expected to pass a CR extending current funding for NIH and other federal agencies at the FY 2016 level through March 31, 2017. ASBMB Public Affairs Director Benjamin Corb explained that “the NIH could see as much as a $2 billion increase in funding” as a result of a bipartisan bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee this summer. However, if Congress approves another three-month CR rather than a full-year budget, the proposed increase for NIH may not become a reality.
Other speakers at the event included James Brown, Executive Director of the STEM Education Coalition, and Harry Stein, Director of Fiscal Policy at the Center for American Progress. Brown and Stein discussed how a longer-term CR would impact federal programs that support science, technology, engineering, and math education. All three presenters strongly urged Congress to make finalizing the FY 2017 appropriations bills the highest priority during the remaining weeks of the legislative session.