Dale Dirks and Dane Christiansen
February 3, 2017
Ceremonially, when a new administration is sworn in, federal agency heads are asked to submit resignation letters and those individuals who will be staying in their position have their letter returned to them. Ahead of the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President, key members of Congress and the research community mounted an urgent campaign to ensure Dr. Francis Collins would remain in his position as Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). At the 11th hour, Dr. Collins was informed he would be staying on to lead NIH (but for how long exactly remains to be seen). Other medical research and public health agency heads, including Dr. Robert Califf the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), were not as fortunate despite overall satisfaction with their leadership. The strong support for Dr. Collins from Congress was intended to provide NIH and associated academic researchers across the country with stability and consistency as FY 2017 funding and policy positions remain uncertain.
Traditionally, the President releases their annual budget request to Congress early in February. This action signifies the start of the annual appropriations process on Capitol Hill. However, due to the change in administrations the President FY 2018 budget request will likely be delayed for some time (during his first year in office President Obama released his budget request in April). With founding-member of the Tea Party Mick Mulvaney taking over as Budget Director for President Trump, research and public health advocates are concerned that there will be a de-emphasize of healthcare programs within the budget request. Previously, Congressman Mulvaney had called for overall spending cuts of between 10% and 25% and questioned whether the nation’s medical research enterprise should be privatized. It is unclear if Director Mulvaney’s vision of austerity or President Trump’s vision of bolstered federal spending and national investment will emerge through the upcoming budget request.
It is critically important for advocates to remember that the administration’s budget request is a non-binding document and that Congress has the “power of the purse.” Ultimately, legislators will decide how much funding NIH, FDA, and other federal programs receive for FY 2017 and FY 2018. Legislators that are supportive of research, including Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Tom Cole (R-OK) remain in key leadership positions and will continue to make spending decisions moving forward. During the 115th Congress it will be particularly important for advocates to connect with their Senators and Representatives, and educate them about the value and importance of clinical and translational research, to ensure key federal programs continue to have robust support among members Congress and meaningful funding on an annual basis.