BETHESDA, MdThe presidentially appointed National Cancer Advisory Board (NCAB) has expressed its concern that President Clintons proposed budget increase of 2.4% for the National Cancer Institute is inadequate and will seriously damage the National Cancer Program over the short and long term.
From 15% Increase to 2.4%
Mr. Clinton proposed a total budget for NCI of $2.973 billion in fiscal year 2000, which begins Oct. 1, of which $240 million of the total is earmarked specifically for AIDS studies.
The Presidents request represents a 2.4% increase over the current fiscal year. In contrast, for FY1999, Congress increased the NCI budget by 15% over the previous year. NCIs proposed budget for cancer is $2.732 billion, up from $2.667 billion last year, which is also a 2.4% increase.
In a letter to the White House and to Congress, NCAB members warned that an abrupt shift in funding from the current 15% increase over FY1998 funding levels, to a recommended increase of 2.4% for FY2000, will result in a critical loss of momentum. This will be seen in a reduction of new programs, loss of ability to renew current programs of excellence, and an inability to rapidly translate new discoveries into applications.
The board voted to send the letter after discussing NCIs future budget several times during its scheduled 2-day meeting. Some members viewed the small increase as nothing less than a coming disaster.
The consensus is that the research community is very excited for the first time in many years with the new addition of money from the 15% increase, remarked Ellen L. Stovall, executive director of the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship. This shift in the proposed budget recommendation would really be catastrophic to the National Cancer Program.
With such a small budget increase, you are going to take the wheels off this machine, I mean, literally warned Philip A. Sharp, PhD, professor of biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. You are going to throw the system into chaos as you reduce the number of grants you can fund.
In briefing the NCAB members on the proposed budget, NCI director Richard D. Klausner, MD, forecast that the number of new competing research grants that NCI will be able to fund in FY2000 will drop to about 1,120 from the 1,200 that NCI expects to fund this year. The 1,200 new grants, a record number, is up from approximately 1,040 last year, he said.
Research grants currently account for 48% of NCIs budget and comprise its largest component. By years end, the Institute expects to be supporting 4,100 new and previously awarded (noncompeting) research projects.
Dr. Klausner said the number of grant requests to NCI is up 23% this year over last. Nonetheless, in FY1999, the Institute envisions funding only 31% of all grants recommended as worthy of support by peer review committees, and he anticipates that this will drop to 28% under the Presidents proposed budget. Moreover, there will be no increase in the average cost of a grant for FY2000, and we will also suspend the cost-management increase for noncompeting grants, Dr. Klausner said.
During an NCAB budget and planning committee meeting, the NCI director estimated that it would take a 10% to 15% increase to maintain a 31% funding rate in FY2000.
Budget Process Just Beginning
Dr. Klausner noted that the budget process is just beginning, and, indeed, predictions from Capitol Hill suggest the NCI and NIH (for which the President requested a 2.1% increase) will both fare well in their final appropriations, as they did this year.
For FY1999, the President proposed an increase of 8.7% for NCI, the House voted a 9.1% increase, and Congress finally settled on the Senate figure of 15%. Given the current federal budget surplus, Congress will likely continue to grant significant budget increases to NCI and other NIH components.