Clinton’s budget proposal affects U researchers’ plans

Sean Madigan

While President Clinton’s proposed budget for the National Institutes of Health falls short of expectations, University researchers say they should still fare well.
In Clinton’s next year’s budget, the NIH stands to gain just a 2 percent increase in funding — compared to a 15 percent increase this year — boosting its annual total to $15.9 billion.
Between 1997 and 1998 the University’s grant awards rose from $125 million to $128 million, a 2.5 percent increase.
Winanne Schumi, assistant vice president for research, said it is too early to tell where the money will go, but she remains confident University researchers will not be directly affected. In 1997 the University received 554 grant awards from the NIH.
“If our researchers submit good proposals they will get their money,” Schumi said, adding that while it’s the president’s proposal, ultimately Congress decides how much to allot.
Schumi said there are a number of other factors to consider when applying for funding, most importantly specialization in a particular field.
“If we have expertise in an area that the NIH is interested in, we will receive the funding,” she said.
Although researchers are pleased with the increase, they hoped Clinton’s proposal would have included more for the NIH. Dwarfed by last year’s 15 percent hike, critics say the 2 percent increase is not enough.
“It’s good news that the budget is an increase,” said Dr. Charles Moldow, associate dean of research programs. “But the bad news is that the increases are not really in line with the proposal to double the NIH’s budget in the next five years.”
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, compared recent NIH budget funding to a roller coaster, going up one year and then dipping the next.
But Christine Maziar, vice president for the University’s Office of Research, said the low increase was meant to even out funding for a two-year period.
Funding for this year and proposed funding for next year averages 8.5 percent per year. Maziar said proposed research dollars are being directed to different research areas to balance out this year’s large increase.
“More money is always good,” Maziar said. “I think it’s important to express our appreciation for bi-partisan support for investing in basic science and research.”
Maziar said there is still a lot of negotiating to be done before any money is allocated.
The roller coaster-like funding granted to the NIH from Congress is indicative of funding dollars from the NIH to the University.
In 1994 NIH grants to the University accounted for a surge of almost $50 million, bringing the total from $103 million to $153 million in 1995. But in 1996 NIH funding dipped to $137 million and plunged again to $125 million in 1997.
But Maziar said numbers can be deceiving because NIH grants are often awarded over several years. Larger grants awarded in a certain year can skew the fiscal total.