February 2011

FASEB rallies scientific community in support of research funding

Many of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology's recent efforts have been aimed at increasing research funding, including supporting a $1 billion NIH funding increase and working to prevent reauthorization of the SBIR set aside.

The 111th Congress adjourned this past December, with legislators quickly wrapping up the year’s business before heading home for the holidays. As negotiations on the 2011 budget were in full swing, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology rallied the scientific community to urge their senators and representatives to pass a spending bill that included a $1 billion funding increase for the National Institutes of Health. As a result of FASEB’s call to action, scientists sent nearly 9,500 messages to Capitol Hill urging lawmakers to sustain the federal investment in biomedical research.

Despite the best efforts of the community, legislators failed to reach an agreement on a budget for the entire fiscal year, instead passing a continuing resolution that will keep the government operating until March 4. The resolution continues funding for nearly all federal agencies at 2010 levels, although exceptions were made for certain programs that would otherwise expire or seriously be interrupted. The federal science agencies were not included in these exceptions, and the resolution does not apportion funds to implement the Cures Acceleration Network, a new NIH entity authorized at $500 million to speed the development of “high need cures.”

No SBIR/STTR reauthorization

The new year did ring in some good tidings for the scientific community, however. During the final days of the congressional session, FASEB worked with the research community to prevent Congress from passing a bill that would have reauthorized the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs.

These programs fund research conducted by small businesses by “setting aside” a portion of the budgets of 11 federal agencies, including the NIH, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Energy. These agencies already are required to devote at least 2.5 percent of their budgets to SBIR research funding. A bill introduced in the Senate would have increased the amount set aside to 3.5 percent – redirecting as much as $1 billion to a single research program at the expense of all other national scientific priorities and further eroding the NIH’s capacity to fund competitive investigator-initiated grants. Responding to the introduction of the Senate bill, FASEB initiated an action alert that generated more than 1,000 letters to Congress from scientists who opposed the bill. FASEB and its advocacy partners also sent letters to every senator, the House leadership and the House Committees on Small Business and Science and Technology. The bill was defeated when those committees blocked the House from taking action on the Senate bill.

Since early 2009, FASEB has led a coalition of nearly 100 groups from research institutions, higher education associations and patient advocacy organizations to fight attempts to increase the amount set aside for SBIR, noting that it would redirect funding from competitive, peer-reviewed research at a time when future funding levels are uncertain. The latest authority for the SBIR and STTR programs expired on January 31, and it is likely that the new Congress will try again to renew both programs. FASEB will continue to oppose any attempt to increase the “set-aside” and urge legislators to work with the Obama administration to increase funding for all research.

America COMPETES reauthorized

Scientists have another reason to celebrate 2011: Both the House and Senate passed the America COMPETES Act Reauthorization of 2010. The legislation provides a three-year reauthorization for key federal science agencies including the NSF, the DOE Office of Science and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, continuing a plan to double authorized funding for those agencies over 10 years. For the short term, recommended funding levels for the NSF would grow from $7.8 billion in fiscal 2012 to $8.3 billion in 2013, while DOE Office of Science levels would increase from $5.6 billion to $6 billion during the same timeframe.

Retiring House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., hailed the approval of the legislation, and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., spoke during the debate, saying, “Federal support for research and innovation is one of the best investments we can make in our future.”

President Obama signed the COMPETES legislation into law on January 4.

Jennifer A. Hobin (jhobin@faseb.org) is director of science policy and Karen R. Mowrer (kmowrer@faseb.org) is the legislative affairs officer in FASEB’s office of public affairs.

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