History of NIH Funding
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the primary government agency responsible for overseeing the federal government’s investment in early stage biomedical and health related-research. Comprised of 27 different centers, the NIH conducts research through their Intramural Research Program (IRP) and Extramural Research Program.
The NIH’s funding comes from the annual Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, which must be approved by Congress. To begin the process, the NIH submits a budget request to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) which is then included in the HHS budget. HHS eventually submits the budget request to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which determines the final scope and specific allocations in accordance with the President’s budget. The Presidents proposed budget is sent to Congress in February, which begins the congressional budget process with final votes for approval coming in the fall.
Congress plays an active role in deciding the NIH budget. In addition to approving the budget through the Appropriations Bill, Congress has allocated funds for specific research projects based large-scale national health needs. This includes cancer research in the 1970s, HIV/AIDS research in the 1980s and more recently commitments to precision medicine and Alzheimer’s research.
Funding Through the Years
In 1938 the NIH received its first appropriation of $464,000 for the National Cancer Institute. Since then, the budget has steadily increased, but from 1999 through 2003, Congress recognized the national commitment to critical research was lagging and nearly doubled the NIH’s overall budget, from $15.6 billion to $27.1 billion.
Since 2003 funding for the NIH has not kept up with inflation. In 2010 the agency saw a peak of $30.9 billion, but then dropped to $30.6 billion, $30.8 billion and $29.3 respectively in 2011, 2012 and 2013 before seeing a slight bump in 2016 to $32.3 billion. If NIH’s budget had kept up with inflation the 2016 budget would have been $35.43 billion. In December 2016, Congress passed and President Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act, which dedicated $4.8 billion to the National Institutes of Health for precision medicine and biomedical research. While impressive, the increases were not guaranteed and need to be appropriated each year by Congress.
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