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US Congress Boosts Federal Bioinformatics Budget Allocations for Fiscal Year 1998


WASHINGTON--The US government's fast-growing bioinformatics programs will continue to expand in 1998 thanks to budget increases. After months of haggling over unrelated issues, Congress earlier this month approved a hefty 15.2 percent increase for the National Institute of Human Genome Research (NIHGR).

In a related move, the lawmakers gave the US Department of Energy's (DOE) Human Genome Program a 7.5 percent increase. The two programs, which lead efforts to sequence human and microbe genomes, are among the world's most important users and developers of informatics technologies. NIHGR sources told BioInform that it's too early to know exactly how the new money--which boosted the institute's budget to $217.7 million--will be spent. But they say some of the additional funding is certain to be used to create or acquire new bioinformatics tools, such as computers and databases.

The budget for "advanced instrumentation," for instance, is slated to rise by $6 million, to about $35 million.

At DOE, biologist Dan Drell told BioInform that the increase will boost the genome program's budget by $6 million, to $86 million. He estimated the agency will spend about $15 million on genome informatics, with half of that going to support databases, including those funded in collaboration with the NIHGR. Another $650,000 will be spent on bioinformatics resources within a separate $5.5 million microbial genome project.

While the DOE increase met with little resistance as it moved to the President's desk for approval, passage of the NIHGR's budget was stalled for months by fierce partisan battles in Congress. At issue were family planning and national education testing funds included in the same appropriations bill, which funds the Departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services. The bill finally passed in early November, more than a month after fiscal 1998 began.

Overall, the bill gave the National Institutes of Health (NIH), NIHGR's parent agency, a 7.1 percent budget increase, to $13.6 billion. Most of NIH's 24 institutes received about 7 percent increases, but the human genome project's growing momentum prompted lawmakers to serve it an extra slice of the budget pie. By contrast, NIH's central director's office received an increase of less than 4 percent.

--David Malakoff

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