This story has been updated from a previous version.
BETHESDA, Md., Feb 28 – Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said Wednesday that if President George W. Bush remains committed to doubling the NIH budget by 2003 from 1998 levels, he would have to implement a relatively large 18 percent increase next year.
“The president has said he’s going to double it and that means there’s going to have to be a $4.1 billion increase in the next year,” Thompson said at a press briefing to discuss the HHS budget following President Bush’s address to the nation Tuesday night.
President Bush has proposed a $2.8 billion, or approximate 13.7 percent, increase in the NIH budget to $23.1 billion for fiscal year 2002. However, critics have said this falls short of what is needed to achieve a budget of about $27.2 billion in 2003.
Bush, like his predecessor Bill Clinton, made a campaign pledge to double the NIH budget from about $13.6 billion in 1998 to some $27.2 billion by 2003. Since 1999, the NIH budget has never been increased by more than 15 percent in a given year.
Thompson acknowledged that a straight-line path to the doubled figure would have required a $3.4 billion, or 15 percent, increase for 2002, but added that the shortfall could be made up for in the 2003 budget.
“That would require a $4.1 billion [increase] next fiscal year, unless Congress is going to improve on the president’s figure,” Thompson said.
Senators Arlen Spector (R-Pa) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) have already introduced a resolution advocating for the full $3.4 billion increase for NIH for fiscal year 2002.
Nevertheless, National Cancer Institute Director Richard Klausner and National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Director Duane Alexander both indicated that the proposed funding increase would allow them to apply the lessons of the genome to human health.
“We’ve talked for awhile about the sense that our sails are up and with this sort of support the wind remains in the sails,” said Klausner.
Thompson said that decisions on specific allocations within NIH agencies would be left to the institute’s directors. He added that appointing a director for NIH was among the priorities high on his agenda.
“The process in Washington does not move very rapidly but it’s very high on my agenda,” Thompson said.
Candidates will include names assembled at NIH as well as the White House. Outgoing director, Ruth Kirschstein, will help in the selection process.