NEW YORK, Jan. 3 - The NHGRI shouldn't get too comfortable with the fat budget increases it's enjoyed in recent years.
The Bush Administration, facing depleted federal coffers, is believed to be considering slashing the NIH's annual budget increase to a trickle, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.
With President Bush set to unveil his budget for fiscal 2004 on Feb. 3, the White House looks ready to award the NIH with an increase of between 1 percent and 0.3 percent, the newspaper said, citing people familiar with the preliminary figures.
The increase, which looks like a budget decrease when compared against the nation's 1.3 percent inflation rate, would be a stark departure from the 15 percent annual increases the NIH has enjoyed in recent years. And while the figures cited by the paper are considered preliminary, it is likely that the myriad agencies and programs funded by the NIH, including the NHGRI, will see similar cutbacks.
For example, the NIH's budget for fiscal 2003, which began on Oct. 1, was slated to increase over the previous year by more than 15 percent to more than $27 billion. By comparison, the NHGRI's budget for the same one-year period grew by 9 percent to approximately $466 million. The NIH saw a similar 15-percent jump in fiscal 2002, and the NHGRI's budget for the same period grew by 12 percent.
Neither the NIH nor the NHGRI, which is at a crossroads in its young life, would comment on pending budgets. But Harold Varmus, president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and a former director of the NIH, told attendees at a recent meeting that it might help to lobby Congress for continued support of science and biotechnology.
"Stroke your member of Congress," Varmus told researchers who gathered at the annual American Society for Cell Biology meeting in San Francisco earlier this month. Thank them for supporting the NIH appropriations bill, "then tell them something about what you do, and how NIH or NSF or DOE money makes a difference in what you do," he suggested.
"The NIH has a magic bullet that appeals to Congress: bringing home the bacon," said Varmus. "NIH money flows to virtually all congressional districts."