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FY 2016 Appropriations: National Institutes of Health Budget Up 5.8%, Bill Lauds Basic Research

Re-posted from the  American Institute of Physics: 23 December 2015

The annual spending law for FY 2016 increases spending at the National Institutes of Health by 5.8 percent over FY 2015 levels and provides similar boosts to NIH institutes important to the physical sciences, including the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering

On Dec. 18, Congress passed, and the President signed into law, the final FY 2016 annual spending bill. As FYI reported last Wednesday, the law appropriates $1.15 trillion in discretionary spending obligations and finalizes funding levels for the nation’s major science agencies, offices and programs through the end of September 2016, including for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Congress’ guidance for NIH spending can be found on pages 31-41 of the bill’s joint explanatory statement.

Agency / Institute
FY14 enactedFY15 enacted
FY16 President's request
FY16 enacted
Change between FY15 and FY16
National Institutes of Health30,070.1
  National Cancer Institute4,932.4
  National Institute of General Medical Sciences2,366.52,372.3
  National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders404.3
  National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering327.0
* Figures in millions of U.S dollars

As the table above shows, NIH is receiving a 5.8 percent increase in spending between FY 2015 and FY 2016. Within that amount, individual institutes important to the physical sciences are receiving similar increases. The National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, which is committed to integrating the physical and engineering sciences with the life sciences to advance basic research and medical care, is seeing a 6.0 percent increase. All these increases are in line with the 5.2 percent increase in overall federal discretionary spending in FY 2016.

After the total NIH budget nearly doubled in size over ten years, from the late 1990s through early 2000s, the biomedical research agency has been held at about the same level of funding, adjusted for inflation, for more than a decade. This year’s 5.8 percent spending increase, larger than the President’s request, is a notable move away from that trend and represents a significant increase in basic biomedical research for the U.S. The FY 2016 spending bill provides NIH with $1.773 billion in new spending above the FY 2015 level.

With plenty of new dollars to go around, a number of the President’s banner biomedical research initiatives – including the Brain Research through Application of Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative and the Precision Medicine Initiative – are fully funded in the bill. The bill’s guidance, however, is cautionary in places. The joint explanatory statement expresses concern over the reproducibility of science at the NIH, writing “the gold standard of science is the ability to reproduce a method and finding,” and citing “reports that some published biomedical research cannot be reproduced.” Congress calls on NIH to update it on the steps it has taken to develop and implement best practice guidelines to ensure that biomedical research funded by NIH is replicable and transparent.

In addition, Congress’ guidance provides a reminder that the primary mission of NIH is to conduct basic biomedical research and that it should stick to that:

The agreement urges the NIH Director to continue the traditional focus on basic biomedical research. The purpose of NIH basic research is to discover the nature and mechanics of disease, and identify potential therapeutic avenues likely to lead to its prevention and treatment. Without this early scientific investigation, future development of treatments and cures would be impossible. Basic biomedical research must remain a key component of both the intramural and extramural research portfolio at the NIH.”

Michael S. Henry
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics