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Mikulski Focuses Attention on Impact of Sequestration on NIH
February 22, 2013—Legislation to continue funding for the federal government for the remainder of FY 2013 also may serve as a potential vehicle to avert the $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts set to begin March 1, according Senate Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.). The senator made her comments at a Feb. 20 press briefing with NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., following a tour of NIH facilities.
Senator Mikulski spoke about the impact the pending sequestration would have on Maryland, saying it would affect 15,000 people at NIH and universities in the state. She said the cuts would have a direct impact on Maryland’s “vibrant” biotechnology industry. She also indicated that Johns Hopkins University would lose $60 million as a result of sequestration.
Calling NIH the “National Institutes of Hope,” Senator Mikulski said Congress must come up with a “common sense approach” to end sequestration. She said that she is looking toward March 27 when the current continuing resolution (CR) funding the federal government expires, and that whatever legislative proposal the House sends to the Senate to provide end-of-year funding also may serve as a vehicle to address sequestration.
Dr. Collins said that ultimately patients and their families would pay the price if sequestration occurs, which would delay work on revolutionary treatments such as a universal influenza vaccine. In response to a question, he declined to identify specific grants or areas of research that would be cut, saying only that “hundreds of grants” will not be funded. He added that perhaps the greatest concern is the impact on young scientists, noting that training grants also will be cut. He said that research is not a spigot that can be turned on and off, and that once young scientists are lost to the system, “they are not coming back.”
Carol Greider, Ph.D., chair of molecular biology and genetics at Johns Hopkins University and a Nobel Prize winner, also spoke about the impact of sequestration on young scientists. She noted that the likelihood of getting funded by NIH is roughly half of what it was in the mid-1980s when she was doing the work for which she received the Nobel Prize. She said her department typically trains eight to ten young scientists a year; now they have four. She also described the scientists of tomorrow as entrepreneurial and said that sequestration could result in the loss of a generation of innovators.
Meanwhile, NIH Feb. 22 issued an “Operation Plan in the Event of a Sequestration” [NOT-OD-13-043]. The plan notes that under the current CR, NIH continues to fund all non-competing continuation awards at up to 90 percent of their previously committed levels. The notice states, “Should a sequestration occur, NIH likely will reduce the final FY 2013 funding levels of non-competing continuation grants and expects to make fewer competing awards to allow the agency to meet the available budget allocation. Although each NIH Institute and Center (IC) will assess allocations within their portfolio to maximize the scientific impact, non-competing continuation awards that have already been made may be restored above the current level… but likely will not reach the full FY 2013 commitment level described in the Notice of Award.”
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