New Budget Plan Cuts NCI Funding by 0.8% for FY 2007

March 1, 2006

President Bush's budget request for fiscal year (FY) 2007 contained some unpleasant news for the cancer community, including a small but symbolically significant cut in funding for the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

BETHESDA, Maryland—President Bush's budget request for fiscal year (FY) 2007 contained some unpleasant news for the cancer community, including a small but symbolically significant cut in funding for the National Cancer Institute (NCI). "The NIH budget is flat, but the NCI budget is down 0.8%," John Niederhuber, MD, the institute's chief executive officer, told the National Cancer Advisory Board (NCAB) one day after Mr. Bush sent his budget proposal to Capital Hill.

The President asked Congress to provide the National Institutes of Health $28.6 billion in FY 2007, the same amount that Congress appropriated for the current fiscal year but $66 million (0.2%) less than the agency received in FY 2005.

For NCI, the new budget request sought $4.754 billion down almost $40 million from the institute's FY 2006 appropriations of $4.793 billion and about $72 million below FY 2005. Because of inflation, the budget requests for NIH and NCI, if accepted and enacted by Congress, would mean a decrease in real dollars. NCI officials foresee a FY 2007 budget actually 3% to 4% below that of this year's appropriated funds.

The new budget plan envisions less money for NCI research project grants (RPGs), as well as other extramural research activities, cancer center support, training, and intramural research. RPG awards would total $2.154 billion in FY 2007 under Mr. Bush's proposal, 45.3% of NCI's total budget but about $51 million less than NCI has for the current year. The institute expects to keep the average dollar value of its RPGs at the same level as this year, about $340,000.

The proposed NCI budget also includes $57.4 million (1.2% of the proposed budget) in funds that would be transferred to the NIH Director's Road Map Initiative, up from $42.8 million the institute must provide this year.

Difficult Choices

Thus, NCI's senior officials are under additional pressure to squeeze some institute programs to provide money for others, a difficult exercise that senior officials have endured since the ending of the 5 years of congressional largesse that nearly doubled NIH's annual budget.

"We have to be strategic about how we go about using the resources that we have in the most effective way," NCI director Andrew C. von Eschenbach, MD, told NCAB members. "We are committed—as we go through this period of making difficult choices between those programs we will grow and nurture and those we believe have met their desired outcomes—that we will always put scientific excellence as the number one criteria in making those fiscal decisions."

Dr. von Eschenbach emphasized that scientific excellence was not the only criteria by which institute activities will be judged. "We must also proceed in making decisions in the context of achieving strategic priorities, in the sense that we must make certain that we don't have duplications and overlaps," he said. "We need to continue the pipeline of development of our intellectual capital . . . particularly in the development of young scientists and investigators across the continuum of basic research and clinical research. We will also work very aggressively in this next year to leverage our resources and find opportunities where we can partner and collaborate with other agencies, other institutes and centers, and other sectors [of the cancer community]."

Research Grants

The President's budget request seeks a total of $2.895 billion for NCI research grants, down 1.8% from the $2.948 billion Congress approved for the current fiscal year. Funding for noncompeting grants would fall from $1.665 billion currently to $1.643 billion in FY 2007, a drop of 1.3%, and the number of grants would also drop. Moreover, NCI would not cover inflation-related cost increases in noncompeting continuation awards, except where the agency has committed to program increases.

The budget for competing grant renewals would remain at $143.2 million and the number of grants would remain unchanged at 280. However, the number of new competing grants would drop from 1,019 this year to 939 in FY 2007, and the amount available would fall from $298.1 million to $270.7 million.

NCI's comprehensive and specialized cancer centers would receive $446.8 million in FY 2007 under Mr. Bush's proposal, $2.35 million less than the institutes' current budget and down $7.4 million from FY 2005. The intramural program would have a budget of $696.3 million FY 2007, down $3.5 million from its present appropriation and down $14.8 million from FY 2005. The Institute's budget for cancer prevention and control would fall to $517 million under the proposed budget, down from $519.7 million for this fiscal year and down from $531.6 million in FY 2005.

By research activity, the budget would cut money for cancer causation investigations to $1.135 billion, down $6 million from NCI's current budget of $1.141 billion. Cancer detection and diagnosis research would fall by $68,000 to $379.8 million in FY 2007. Treatment research would receive $1.2 billion, a drop of $3.5 million, while funding for cancer biology would fall to $794 million, down $41 million from the FY 2006 budget.

The FY 2007 NCI budget also includes $7.8 million for its role in the NIH Genes, Environment, and Health Initiative.