Last August, I wrote about the effects of sequestration on the NIH and NIAMS, but much has happened since then. So, in this month’s letter, I’d like to discuss the government shutdown that occurred in October and how it affected the NIH, and emphasize the NIAMS’ ongoing commitment to funding the best research possible in our mission areas in this challenging budget climate.
The Federal government’s fiscal year runs from October 1st of one year to September 30th of the next. In past years, when some or all of the appropriations bills had not been passed as the new fiscal year was approaching, the Congress typically put a continuing resolution (CR) in place, allowing the government to function at its previously established spending limits. This year, however, the House and Senate were unable to reach consensus before this deadline. As a result, the NIAMS, NIH, and much of the Federal government were forced to close – the first time this has happened since 1995.
The shutdown caused the NIH to furlough more than 75 percent of our staff members, with exceptions granted only to positions that protected life and property, or served absolutely essential administrative functions. Patients seeking to enter clinical trials were turned away from our Clinical Center, many of our research labs were closed, and calls from investigators throughout the country went unanswered. Perhaps hardest hit was NIH’s scientific review community, which is responsible for ensuring the rigorous review of all of our grant applications. The shutdown delayed more than 200 review meetings across NIH, but many people are now working hard to ensure that these delays are not felt throughout the broader research community.
On October 17th, the government reopened under a CR that provides funding through January 15, 2014. We have been working diligently since then to minimize the effects of the 16-day shutdown. In fact, NIH’s Office of Extramural Research has posted guidance on how the agency is addressing the resumption of activities for the extramural research community. In addition, if there is a small silver lining to this event, it is that NIH and its important work were highlighted repeatedly in the media and by politicians on both sides of the aisle. The support we received was heartening. It does not change the fact that harm was done, but it does increase awareness about the NIH’s biomedical research mission.
I also wanted to provide an update about the NIAMS budget for fiscal year 2013, now that the year has closed out. Due primarily to the effects of sequestration, the NIAMS fiscal year 2013 budget was $505 million—a 5.6 percent reduction from the previous fiscal year. I worked closely with staff across the Institute and NIH to ensure that our grant application success rates for researchers were as high as possible, despite our reduced funding. Across all research project grant mechanisms, our applicants saw a 15.7 percent success rate in 2013, compared to 15.6 percent the previous year. We are especially proud that new R01 investigators actually saw a small increase in their success rate (13.7 percent compared to 13 percent last year). To achieve these overall success rates, however, the entire research community had to make do with less. These included non-competing research project grants (-5.0 percent), competing research project grants (-15.0 percent), research center grants (-5.0 percent), the NIAMS’ intramural research program (-4.0 percent), and the NIAMS’ research management and support activities (-3.0 percent).
Fiscal year 2013 has been challenging for the NIAMS, the NIH, and the research community at-large. While we have hope that the coming years will be more robust for biomedical research in the United States, we are grateful for the resources that the American taxpayers have granted us, the great responsibility entrusted to us, and the outstanding research undertaken and scientific advances we’ve seen over this past year. I am immensely proud of the work that NIAMS performs every day, and assure you that we will continue to fund the best and most promising research, with the goal of further improving the health of the millions of Americans affected by diseases of the bones, joints, muscles and skin.