Dale Dirks and Dane Christiansen
May 19, 2017
On Wednesday, May 17th, the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Dr. Francis Collins, appeared before the House Labor-Health and Human Services-Education (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee for a hearing entitled, The Transformative Power of Biomedical Research. Dr. Collins was joined by a handful of Institute Directors and, after providing brief testimony, the panel answered questions on key programs and activities from Subcommittee members. Through his remarks, Dr. Collins provided a robust justification for the value and importance of investment in NIH to the LHHS Subcommittee.
Traditionally, NIH leadership appears before the Senate and House LHHS appropriations subcommittees to defend the administration’s annual budget request to Congress. Since the release of the Trump Administration’s FY 2018 “skinny” budget request to Congress, NIH has been slated to appear before the House Subcommittee twice. The newly installed Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, replaced Dr. Collins at the first hearing and this second hearing on the 17th was presented strictly an “oversight” hearing during which the budget request was not directly discussed.
The administration’s FY 2018 skinny budget request calls for deep cuts to NIH funding and was met with harsh condemnation by both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill. It is unclear if NIH leadership will appear before the House LHHS Subcommittee again to discuss the budget request once the full budget proposal is released.
During the hearing, Dr. Collins stated the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) was the primary area where innovation was taking place. He also clarified the emerging topic of indirect costs in grants by explaining the difference between federal grants to academic health centers and more modest grants offered by charitable patient organizations. At the urging of the Subcommittee, Dr. Collins also discussed the harmful effects of underfunding NIH, shutting down the government (or facilitating budget uncertainty), and the hiring freeze. Members of the Subcommittee also expressed an ongoing interest in the IDeA program to NIH.