ASBMB Hill Day, September 11, 2012

This week, I had the pleasure of traveling to Washington DC with the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) to lobby the Federal government for sustained funding for biomedical research through the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Historically, the NIH experienced a doubling of the budget for biomedical research in 2003-04 to 30.64 billion dollars.  Over the last decade, there have been two years in which the NIH budget was increased to over 35 billion during the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (stimulus) of 2009-2010, but has subsequently returned to the pre-stimulus annual budget during 2011 and 2012.  Currently, this level of funding has not been adjusted for inflation since 2003, and when corrected for this deficit, reflects an approximate 20% loss in purchasing power over the last decade.

To combat this loss in spending power, many scientific advocacy groups including ASBMB are calling for an increase in the federal budget of 4.5% for FY2013, resulting in an increase to 32.02 billion annually, continuing to 35 billion dollars by FY2015 in order to keep pace with international spending in biomedical research.  Without this increase, the US stands to lose its standing as a leader in biomedical research.

While there, I visited with staffers from offices in Washington, California, and Pennsylvania; from Pennsylvania, Rep. Chaka Fattah (D), Sen. Pat Toomey (R), Sen. Bob Casey (D) , Rep. Glenn Thompson (R) ; Rep. Anna Eshoo (D), Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D), from California, and from my own state Senators Patty Murray (D) and Maria Cantwell (D).

Over the last several months, we’ve heard a lot about the potential “sequestration” of federal funding that may happen if a budget is not agreed upon by both the House of Representatives and the Senate and signed by President Obama before December 31, 2012. Sequestration is a potential result of the Budget Control Act, passed in 2011 with the intent to end the debt ceiling crisis.  This Act appointed a Joint Committee of Senators and Representatives whose primary goal was to achieve a 1.5 trillion dollar reduction in government spending over fiscal years 2012-2021. Sequestration could affect not only the NIH budget, but all federal agencies. If a balanced budget is not achieved by this committee, sequestration of federal government funding will take place effective January 2, 2013, and will result in the slashing of 1.2 trillion dollars from the federal budget. Were sequestration to go into effect it will most likely represent a reduction of at least 8% to the NIH budget and up to 12% to other federal agencies that support grant funding including the USDA.  A scary prospect for sure!

Representatives from most of the offices we visited were cautiously optimistic that the provisions from the Budget Control Act are scheduled to slash current funding would be stricken from the law in time to save the current amount of money going to NIH and other governmental agencies. Republican representatives were notably less optimistic.  Clearly this is a plan that frightens everyone from both parties.  Of those representatives who support increasing NIH budget that I visited, Senator Bob Casey along with Senator Richard Burr of NC have written and delivered a letter with the signatures of 48 Senators to the Committee on Appropriations  requesting an increase to the NIH budget.  A similar letter with bipartisan support was delivered to the House Appropriations committee with the signatures of 150 Representatives.

The majority of the offices that I visited agreed that increasing the level of funding to NIH should be a priority of the federal government.  Statistics show that for every dollar invested into scientific research through NIH government funding results in at least a $2.15 return on investment in the form of additional jobs in laboratories and increased commerce in local areas along with the potential to begin manufacturing from discoveries that are made in basic research labs at the University level.  One shocking finding is that the NIH invested 3 billion dollars in the Human Genome Project, and so far estimates suggest there has been an 800 billion dollar return on that investment. Clearly investing more in science can help boost a floundering economy!

As someone who has now suffered twice from cuts in federal research dollars such that I’ve now moved onto my third job since finishing graduate school in 2009, I couldn’t agree with this ask to the federal government any more.  It’s time to face facts:  people going through a tremendous amount of schooling and sacrifice to obtain PhD’s are losing their jobs in the academic market at alarming rates are not able to obtain the jobs they want in academia, though the unemployment rate of PhD’s is still low, job satisfaction is decreasing significantly.  This trend has serious negative implications for our economy, as it is clear that investing in basic science research is only good for the economy and the future of the US as a leader in drug discovery, therapeutics, and public health.  As a citizen of the US who has taken an active part in electing my representatives from the first time I was legally allowed to vote, I very much enjoyed this trip to Washington DC.  I left feeling quite excited about the future of biomedical research, and found that taking part in some small way in my government to be an empowering and instructional experience.  I highly recommend everyone give it a try!



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