March 2012

Obama’s FY13 budget: a mixed bag for biomedical research


Last month, President Obama released his budget request for fiscal 2013, a plan to fund the federal government from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, 2013. Budgets in presidential election years are difficult, and the president has identified some priority areas for federal investment while working to cut overall spending levels to decrease future debt and deficits.

Of significance to the biomedical community, of course, is the plan for funding the National Institutes of Health. Last year, the NIH saw a modest $200 million increase for FY12 to a level of $30.7 billion. This year, Obama is proposing flat funding, keeping FY13’s level at $30.7 billion. The message to the community is mixed. Political realities are such that significant increases to the budget in FY13 are not palatable. The average Joe has had to tighten his belt, and Washington should be doing the same. When viewed through that lens, flat funding can be seen as a relative win. In an environment of cuts, at least the White House understands the nation’s biomedical research enterprise should not be a target for cuts.

There is, of course, a flip side. Flat funding, obviously, means no increases. Just as FY12’s budget forced a record low success rate, flat funding indicates those painfully low paylines will continue for at least another year. To make matters worse, the biomedical research and development price index – the industry standard for estimating inflation in the field – for 2012 was set at 2.9 percent. Therefore, flat funding actually equates to a cut in NIH funding. Not good.

However, the president has recognized that the funding situation hits new investigators particularly hard. The FY13 budget outlines new grant-management policies to increase the number of new research grants awarded and provide more funding for new investigators.

In late March, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Public Affairs Advisory Committee is sponsoring its biannual Hill Day program, during which members from across the country will deliver a message that underscores the need for federal support for biomedical research not only in FY13 but in years to come. As part of that effort, the PAAC will be calling for budget increases for FY13. Specifically, ASBMB is asking Congress to increase the NIH investment to $32 billion for FY13 and to $35 billion by FY15.

We all know the biomedical enterprise requires two things. First, a sustained investment. Research funding cannot be treated like a roads project; you cannot cut funding one year and increase it the next and expect the scientific community to continue as normal. Cuts have drastic, long-lasting effects. Second, the scientific community needs predictability so it can prepare for lean times, should they come. The ASBMB budget request seeks to address both of those issues.

Obama’s budget request is a starting point in a negotiation that likely will last throughout most of the calendar year, and the ASBMB public affairs staff will continue to monitor the situation, continue to inform our membership of changes and continue to provide analysis.


Benjamin Corb ( is director of public affairs at ASBMB.

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