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DC Dysfunction Squeezes NHGRI

The uncertain US federal funding environment and the recent partial shutdown of the US government have conspired to create a shaky start to the new fiscal year at the National Human Genome Research Institute, NHGRI Director Eric Green writes in his Genomics Landscape update this week.

Now, in the third week of FY 2014, NHGRI is running without a budget plan for the year, is still operating under the constraints of the sequestration, and is working to "resolve the numerous problems created by the shutdown," Green says.

Green says the institute is hurrying to "undo the damage" caused by the shutdown, and asks for patience from the genomics research community as his team works to "normalize" NHGRI's operations.

He writes that the "profound and continuing" uncertainties about federal funding for biomedical research and NHGRI "clouds almost everything I do on a daily basis," and that frustration is intensified because of the potentially significant impacts genomics research may have on human health.

In the current situation, with a federal budget for the year likely to be months away, if Congress passes one at all, Green says he has seen "individual laboratory budgets squeezed, excellent programs cut, and new initiatives left unfunded...."

NHGRI has already taken a number of steps to try to manage the rocky and uneven funding situation, Green said.

In the Extramural Research Program, NHGRI is continually adjusting its portfolio to try to fund "cutting edge" science, and although some programs have been delayed, "we have not abandoned them," he writes. Some of these plans for programs have been tucked way in a "back pocket," so that if more funding becomes available the institute could move swiftly on.

The Intramural Research Program has undergone "significant cuts and adjustments" due to the sequestration, Green says. The program has avoided replacing staff members who have departed the institute and has altered its budget process too provide intramural researchers with more flexibility. Across the institute, travel plans and meetings have been cut, as has hiring and other expenses.

"In short, we are doing our best analyzing budgets and developing scenarios for different circumstances - and preparing for events that then do not happen."