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Obama's Proposed 2012 Budget Seeks R&D Funding Boost

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – In his administration's proposed federal budget for next year US President Barack Obama today sought an increase in funding for biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health and in basic science at other agencies, even though he asked for cuts and freezes in many other areas of government.

Making the case that investment in basic research is critical to American competitiveness, even in the face of a rising national debt, the White House budget proposed boosting NIH's funding 2.4 percent to over $31.83 billion from $30.78 billion in 2010 (Congress has not yet passed the budget for fiscal year 2011).

The 2012 budget proposal also asks for $7.77 billion for the National Science Foundation, a roughly 13 percent increase over 2010, and $5.42 billion for the Department of Energy's Office of Science, an increase of 10.7 percent.

Under this plan, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would see its funding trimmed to $5.89 billion from $6.47 billion in 2010, and the Food and Drug Administration's funding would increase from $2.60 billion to $2.74 billion.

Obama said that the overall budget calls for a 5-year freeze on discretionary spending that will be accomplished by making cuts in some areas, including a 2-year freeze on federal workers' salaries, in order to continue to invest in other areas that his administration sees as fueling the economy and enhancing competitiveness.

"The challenge is for the United States to make private and public investments in science, research and development that will keep the United States as the world's leader in innovation for decades to come," according to a statement from the White House, which calls for a total of $148 billion overall in 2012 research and development spending.

"[S]ince many companies do not invest in basic research that does not have an immediate pay off, we—as a nation—must devote our resources to these fundamental areas of scientific inquiry," Obama said in a statement today.

"I believe we must do what this moment demands, and do what we must to spur job creation and make the United States competitive in the world economy … We can see it in the laboratories and research facilities all over this country that are churning out discoveries and turning them into new startups and new jobs," the President added.

Speaking on behalf of United for Medical Research, a consortium that advocates for biomedical research, Life Technologies Chairman and CEO Greg Lucier cheered the White House's proposal to boost NIH funding by nearly $1 billion and connected the dual aims of boosting the economy as well as advancing science.

"NIH funding underpins not only improvements in human health and cutting-edge scientific advancements, but also the life sciences industry which represents one of our nation's most significant employment sectors," Lucier said in a statement. "Through funding of research at universities, research institutes and small businesses in all fifty states, NIH fuels the discoveries that provide hope to patients, high-quality jobs for Americans, and economic development in our communities."

The White House's budget proposal comes just days after Republican leadership in the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee proposed reducing research funding to NIH in 2012 by $1 billion, and cutting $755 million to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, $186 million to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and $139 million to the National Science Foundation.

The House plan, which is part of an effort to lower the federal budget by $100 billion, also would cut $1.1 billion from DOE's Office of Science; $53 million from food safety and inspection services, and $246 million from funding for agricultural research.

John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said at a press conference today that despite the potential for clashes over the deficit in Congress he thinks the increases for research funding in this "tough love" budget stand a strong chance of passing.

"We wouldn't have produced the budget if we didn't' think it could get through with most of its priorities in place," he said. "We think this is both responsible and essential to meet the {White House's] three priorities of investing in research and infrastructure and in [science, technology, and mathematics] education."

The budget proposal also states that the NIH's planned National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences and the ongoing Cures Acceleration Network program will increase the institute's "focus on bridging the translational divide between basic science and therapeutic applications."

In the 2012 budget proposal, Obama also said he wants to make the Research and Experimentation Tax Credit program permanent, to expand it by around 20 percent, and to simplify it "so that it is easier for firms to take this credit and make the investments our economy needs to compete."

The White House also proposes making changes at the US Patent and Trademark Office to "improve the speed and quality of patent examinations" by using a temporary fee surcharge and through legislative measures. According to the Office of Management and Budget, these changes taken together will provide USPTO with more than $2.7 billion in 2012.