A Boon to All
By Rich McManus
On the Front Page...
While there have been larger percentage increases in NIH's budget in decades past -- mostly during the Shannon era in the early sixties, when new institutes began proliferating -- the $2.03 billion addition to the FY 1998 level signed by President Clinton on Oct. 21 is by far the largest dollar increase in agency history. The 14.9 percent bump-up brings the FY 1999 appropriation to $15.652 billion, a figure hailed jubilantly in all corners of the agency.
"This degree of confidence in NIH by the Congress, the administration and the American people brings with it a special responsibility to continue the high quality research traditions at NIH laboratories and among our grantees, and to ensure the highest quality of administration of these funds," said Tony Itteilag, NIH deputy director for management.
Enacted in Public Law 105-277, the budget also brings new entities and names to the campus, including new status for the former Office of Alternative Medicine, which is now the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (with a $50 million appropriation), and renaming of the National Institute of Dental Research, which has elongated to National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (see sidebar). The new Consolidated Laboratory Facility, now under construction as Bldg. 50, will be named in honor of Rep. Louis B. Stokes (D-Ohio), and the new Vaccine Research Center (Bldg. 40), on which work has already begun, will be called the Dale and Betty Bumpers Vaccine Research Facility. Off-campus construction also got a boost as $30 million was provided for NCRR-sponsored extramural building projects.
The FY 1999 appropriation will enable NIH to fund more than 9,000 research project grants this year, and allow the agency to make significant progress in its goal of paying close to recommended levels for RPGs, noted Francine Little, director of the Office of Financial Management. The salary cap for researchers financed through grants and contracts also has been raised from $125,000 to executive level III (currently $125,900).
Clinical research, too, has been bolstered by creation of three new "K" award programs expected to increase significantly the number of clinical investigators. NIH is also going to be able to provide an across-the-board stipend increase of 25 percent for recipients of National Research Service Awards. Trainees, visiting fellows and volunteers will also gain transit subsidies as the law provides NIH permanent authority to offer Transhare to a wider pool than just full-time employees.
The omnibus measure also: continues the NIH director's authority to transfer funds between appropriations (limited to 1 percent of the budget); provides $500,000 to the Foundation for the NIH (formerly the National Foundation for Biomedical Research, which is permitted to raise funds and donate them to NIH); offers $90 million in FY 1999 plus advance funding of $40 million -- available Oct. 1, 1999 -- to complete the new Mark O. Hatfield Clinical Research Center; and allocates $10 million for vaccine research and development activities in support of the President's bioterrorism initiative.
AIDS research is identified at $1.799 billion. The bill continues the federal prohibition on human embryo research.
Other emphases within the budget law include establishing two to five "mind/body" centers, bolstering the number of African American investigators involved with HIV research (including prevention and risk-reduction), and helping the Institute of Medicine complete a study on cancer among minorities.
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