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Flat Funding for R&D: A Threat to National Security

Daily, we deal with the many issues of National Security and World events. However, often policy, specifically funding policies, can also affect the Nation’s health, welfare and security. On a high level, the strength of our educational system, the vitality of our research institutions, and the creativity of its scientists impacts our global competitiveness and our security as well. Last week, the impact of the continued flat lining of the budgets for the National Institutes of Health came to the surface when Robert Palazzo, Ph.D., President of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) testified at the House Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee.

"Flat funding of NIH, combined with the effects of inflation, has eroded the purchasing power of the agency by 10% or more. With every excellent unfunded idea, we stand to miss or delay the critical discovery leading to therapies for our most debilitating health conditions."

For the last five years, the budgets for the NIH have been flat, making it difficult for researchers to pursue their innovative research. This funding trend continues with the projected 2009 budget.

The President's 2009 budget continues to propose large increases for the three physical sciences agencies related to the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) as well as human spacecraft development. It also offers mostly increases in other parts of the federal R&D portfolio, but with cuts in key agricultural and environmental R&D agencies and a flat line for NIH biomedical research.

Among the conclusions of an analysis of the FY 2009 research budget is that:

After more than a half-century of unchallenged superiority in virtually every field of science and technology, from basic research to product development, the United States is starting to lose ground to other nations. While we continue to lead the world in scientific innovation, the recent years of declining investment in NIH and fresh competition from abroad threaten to end our supremacy. If the United States is to continue its leadership role in achieving scientific progress, the President and Congress must commit to adequately supporting the basic, fundamental research that underlies technological advancement.

Highlights of how flat funding is affecting research:

● In 1990 young researchers received 29 percent of R01 grants (the premier NIH research grant needed to establish a researcher’s credibility and independence). By 2007 that dropped to 25 percent

● While the success rate has dropped for all R01 applicants, it is particularly low -- only 18 percent -- for first-time applicants

● First-time RO1 recipients also are older. The average age is now 43, up from 39 years in 1990

● “Applications for R01 grants from previously unfunded scientists showed an appreciable drop in 2007, declining by nearly 600 applications from the 2006 level. That represents a loss of hundreds of new scientists and all of the talent and intellectual capital that they bring to the system.”

An unprecedented five consecutive years of stagnant funding for the National Institutes of Health is putting America at risk—slowing the pace of medical advances, risking the future health of Americans, discouraging our best and brightest researchers, and threatening America's global leadership in biomedical research. Unfortunately, President Bush's budget proposal recommends a sixth year of flat funding for the NIH in 2009.

In a recently released report, a group of concerned institutions (six research universities and a major teaching hospital) described the toll that cumulative stagnant National Health Institute (NIH) funding is taking on the American medical research enterprise. The leading institutions warned that if NIH does not get consistent and robust support in the future, the United States will lose a generation of young investigators to other careers and other countries and, with them, a generation of promising research that could cure diseases for millions for whom no cure currently exists.

The report, “A Broken Pipeline" Flat Funding of the NIH Puts a Generation of Science at Risk,” was co-authored by Brown University, Duke University, Harvard University, The Ohio State University, Partners Healthcare, the University of California Los Angeles, and Vanderbilt University, poses the possibility that with the continued softness in U.S. R&D budgets, the U.S. will lose a generation of researchers.

Recent trends show China becoming the driver of the world's science, technology, and economy. As a whole, the European Union has also passed the U.S. in these areas. Noted is our inability to encourage and support the training of scientists and engineers. The funding of resources like the National Institutes of Health, contribute to this. Our loss of leadership in innovation is an impending threat to National Security.