Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Heard on the radio yesterday... An ad for Infone on Jim Rome's show, voiced by James Carville. Yes, really. Seeing as Rome's on Premiere Networks with the likes of Laura the Leg Spreader and so on, wouldn't it be a hoot if that ad with Carville's voice ended up on, say, Limbaugh's show?

The Association of American Universities cuts through the mumbo jumbo that is the Shrubbery's request for NIH funding for Fiscal Year 2004. A bit of background: NIH grants are divided into 2 categories: continuation grants and new or renewed grants. For instance, if a grant period is four years, it's in the second category at the end of the period. This category has 10165 grants in FY2003.

The AAU cuts through the OMB's attempt to make increases below the rate of inflation (3.3%) into a sizable increase. The OMB claims a 7.5% increase in research funding, which partly results from no longer having to cut half a year of funding for NIAID grants to pay for the purchase of anthrax vaccine. (That is, if you do what you committed to do in the first place after cutting back on that commitment previously, it's a big increase. That's kind of like calling the sunset provision gimmicks in various tax cut bills a tax increase when the provisions take effect.) Other ways of increasing funding comes from the completion of new construction of biodefense buildings. To quote the AAU...

The Administration also indicates that the number of new grants will rise from 10,165 in FY2003 to 10,509 in FY2004, an increase of 344 grants, or 3 percent. New bioterrorism grants would rise from 338 to 661; new non-bioterrorism grants would stay essentially flat (9,827 in FY2003; 9,848 in FY2004).

To increase the number of new grants, NIH plans to fund non-competing continuation grants (26,958) in FY2004 at slightly less than their committed levels, and less than biomedical inflation, which is 3.3 percent. Competing grants would rise by just one percent from the previous year. In sum, the budget proposes to fund more, thinner, grants.
Also, in future years, it is proposed that NIH budget growth will be lower than the rate of inflation, in effect giving back much of the gains started when it was proposed in 1998 that the NIH budget double in 5 years.

In short, a highly unimpressive funding effort for a gubmint program that even many conservatives believe to be highly effective. It's also quite depressing for people like me who would be looking to NIH for basic research grants, only to find more and more people competing for the same number of grants.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

I had heard some scuttlebutt through the grapevine that people with NIH grants were going to lose six months of their grants. Disturbing news, to be sure. More disturbing to find out that it's actually and verifiably true.

The Office of Management and Budget (read: outgoing Mitch Daniels) has ordered the NIAID (a division of NIH) to fund $232 million for procurement of 25 million doses of a new anthrax vaccine. This is even though NIAID director Anthony Fauci says,

Right from the get-go I said there's going to be misunderstandings because we at the NIH don't procure.
Congress originally agreed and didn't include vaccine procurement as part of NIAID's budget request, without offering a substitute. So the OMB stuck it back in.

That outlay alone represents over 6% of NIAID's annual budget. It's also about 43% of the magnitude of the part of NIAID's budget for new and renewed research grants. To juggle the money around, the NIH is now forced to cut new grant durations from 4 to 3 1/2 years and resturucture existing contracts.

To sum up, basic research has been slashed because the Shrubbery was too lazy to fund their Department of Homeland Security (who should be doing the procurement) properly. But hey, jeopardizing America's future health by cutting funding for other infectious diseases is a small price to pay, as long as big stockholders get their precious tax cut.

UPDATE: changed "is going to get slashed" to "has been slashed". The order was that procurement should be done this fiscal year.

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