December 20, 2011

Update on 2012 Federal Omnibus Appropriations

As Vanderbilt University Medical Center is reliant on federal support for a majority of its biomedical research, Medical Center leadership has been closely monitoring legislative activity surrounding funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The NIH is slated for a very modest increase in a final Fiscal Year ‘12 appropriations package approved by Congress over the past few days. The funding package also includes language creating the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), which will administer the Clinical and Translational Sciences Awards (CTSAs). This is remarkably good news for Vanderbilt during a time of extreme fiscal restraint.

The agreement was reached in what has become a tradition for this Congress – letting the countdown to a government shutdown drive last-minute congressional action. This time, it was on an enormous package of Fiscal Year 2012 appropriations bills, known as the Omnibus Conference Agreement.

The Omnibus, totaling more than $900 billion in spending laid out within more than 1,000 pages of legislation, passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 296-121 on Friday, and the U.S. Senate by a vote of 67-32 on Saturday. The President is expected to sign the bill this week.

For the fiscal year that started Oct. 1, the NIH will receive an increase of approximately $240 million. The increase was originally $299 million, but the Department of Health and Human Services was ultimately reduced by an across-the board-budget cut of 0.189 percent. At the same time, the Conference Committee reduced the cap allowed for salary support paid by NIH grants, from Executive Level I ($199,700) to Executive Level II ($179,700). While this reduction will have a significant impact on institutional costs, the timing of this change has not been finalized by NIH, and Vanderbilt intends to maintain existing commitments to faculty and staff compensation and benefits.

The language creating the NCATs has been a controversial priority of NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., but was ultimately endorsed by congressional leaders. NCATS will now administer the Clinical and Translational Sciences Awards (CTSA) program, which was funded at $487.8 million for FY 2012, equal to the FY ‘11 level. The Vanderbilt CTSA is also the national coordinating center for all other CTSAs.

Another new program, the Cures Acceleration Network, was also funded with $10 million. This new program is designed to help speed the transition from basic research into usable treatments. VUMC is well positioned to benefit from this funding.

Other research funding important to Vanderbilt also received modest increases, including defense and energy-related research.

While the process to arrive at this point was certainly contentious, Congress ultimately should be commended for recognizing the importance of federal investments in university-based biomedical research.