For the first time since 1970, the National Institutes of Health is facing a budget cut. Last month, President Bush approved a 1-percent blanket cut to most government programs as a means to help pay for rising military costs, bird flu preparation and Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. Among the programs affected is NIH, a major provider of medical research funding to colleges and universities, including the University of Michigan. These cuts may be detrimental to research efforts on campus and are certainly a significant setback to the country’s already-suffering research sector.
The Institutes’s 2006 budget is set at $28.3 billion, $286 million less than anticipated. The Medical School, the dental school, the pharmacy school and the departments of biology and chemistry in LSA received $368.1 million in fellowships and grants through the NIH last year. While faculty are not expecting funding decreases from current grants this year, the reductions will likely will hurt the University’s ability to maintain the quality of its research over time.
This cut will translate to fewer grants and fellowships, making the rewards still available more competitive. This seemingly subtle effect will require researchers to devote more time worrying about funding, whether in perfecting the grant proposals already required under NIH’s rigorous review process or searching for alternative funding sources. These hours would be better spent teaching students or conducting research.
Beyond the University, this cut illustrates the administration’s continued disregard for basic science research. The Bush administration received sharp criticism last year for its decision to decrease funding to the National Science Foundation. While funding for space and defense research has fared well, the administration has shown less of a commitment to paying for basic research through agencies such as the NSF and NIH. This is unfortunate because such basic research underlies the scientific breakthroughs behind new technologies – in the private sector as well as in government-funded defense and space work. Decreases in research funding also threaten to drive researchers away from working in the United States.
Funding from the NIH is absolutely necessary for many functions at a research institution like the University. While the damage of this cut may not be felt immediately, the administration’s decision appears to be part of a trend that will lead to more cuts later. The University and the nation alike depend on NIH to pave the way in medical research. Adequate funding is essential for the Institutes to meet these expectations and for the nation’s citizens to see the full benefit of medical research.