National Institutes of Health (NIH) director Francis Collins has indicated that although each of the 27 institutes and centers at NIH would have to cut funding under sequester provisions of the budget control law, the directors of those entities could decide how to apportion the reduction within each institute.
NIH faces a cut of some $1.5 billion from its $30 billion budget under sequester provisions scheduled to take effect March 1.
Individual institute directors at NIH "have to figure out how to distribute that amongst the many different kind of mechanisms, grants and centers, in terms of the intramural program, but everything will take a hit," Dr. Collins said. "There is at least some flexibility within the institute."
Dr. Collin's remarks to reporters came after he conducted a tour of NIH facilities with Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who was recently selected to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee. Senator Mikulski, a vocal supporter of the NIH, was skeptical about how beneficial the flexibility Dr. Collins cited would be towards maintaining quality research.
"Let me tell you how I feel about flexibility," she told reporters. "The sequester is like the Titanic hitting an iceberg. Flexibility essentially says, you're on a ship that's sinking, what deck do want to be on? As you go down, do you want to be closer to the kitchen? Do you want to be closer to the band while we hum 'Nearer My God to Thee'?
Dr. Collins said NIH will "try to prioritize to things that seem most promising, most critical to public health, but there's no question there will be across-the-board damage to virtually everything. We would pursue it, but we won't go as fast as we can."
Dr. Collins noted that patients and their families counting on NIH to find new cures and treatments for their diseases will be harmed and progress will be slowed in research, but what concerned him most is the effect the budget cuts will have on young scientists. "Our training grants are going to get cut," he said. "This is not a spigot we turn off and then just turn it back on again blithely a year later. If we lose the talents of this up-and-coming generation with all their dreams and visions they're not coming back."
It is critical that all ASH members contact their Members of Congress to urge them to recognize the value of medical research and protect the NIH from budget cuts. Please take action by joining the ASH on-line advocacy campaign today!
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