Congress passes FY 2014 Omnibus package: Mixed results for global health research
UPDATE: since this post, the Senate also approved the spending package and President Obama has signed the final 2014 omnibus bill into law.
In an increasingly rare show of bipartisanship, Congress has moved forward an appropriations agreement that should finally settle the issue of fiscal year (FY) 2014 funding levels. Yesterday, the House of Representatives approved the $1.1 trillion Omnibus spending bill, and the Senate is likely to pass the legislation later this week.
In line with budget numbers previously agreed to, the bill includes an increase in discretionary spending of $45 billion, split equally between defense and non-defense spending. For global health research, the news is mixed. Funding for many accounts that fund research for new global health tools—such as those at the US Agency for International Development (USAID)—was higher than FY 2013 sequestered levels, and a few accounts even saw further increases. However, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) remains woefully underfunded, even as Congress increased its budget by $1 billion over last year’s post-sequestration levels. Below are a few key highlights from the omnibus agreement:
State and Foreign Operations (SFOPS)—Although overall International Affairs funding saw a cut of $6.5 billion (39.7 percent) from last year’s levels, funding for global health actually increased by 4.7 percent over FY 2013 levels to $8.44 billion. Certain subaccounts that contain global health research programs within the SFOPs budget fared particularly well, including funding for the Maternal and Child Health account ($705 million) which saw a 12.4 percent increase from 2013 levels. Additionally, appropriators went above and beyond the President’s request for tuberculosis (TB) funding, allocating $236 million for bilateral TB programs, $45 million over the President’s request and an increase of 5.1 percent from 2013 enacted levels. In another positive move, the USAID Neglected Tropical Diseases program is funded at $100 million—potentially opening the door for the inclusion of research and development (R&D) programming. The bill also provides for $4.067 in funding for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief program—which includes key product development programs for malaria, HIV and AIDS, and TB—an overall increase of 3.9 percent. Funding for both family planning and malaria remained similar to last year’s levels. Policy language that accompanied the omnibus also contained support for the continuation of important global health research programming.
NIH—The omnibus sets overall 2014 funding for the NIH at $29.934 billion—a $1 billion increase from 2013 post-sequester levels. While this is certainly an improvement from the current situation, this number falls short of White House and Senate requests and represents a $950 million cut from 2012 levels. In more reassuring news, the NIH National Center for Advancing Translational Science (NCATS) was funded at a fairly robust $633 million, however report language included in the omnibus text requested that all funding for the Clinical and Translational Science Awards come out of NCATS funding in FY 2014, whereas in the past funding has been drawn from several centers. Other important centers such as the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Institute of Child Health were funded at $4.359 billion and $1.283 billion, respectively—both decreases from FY 2012 levels and the FY 2014 budget request.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—Overall funding for the CDCis set at $6.9 billion, a $567 million increase from 2013 post-sequestration levels. Within the CDC, the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases was funded at $287.3 million, $93 million below the President’s request. CDC’s Global Health account, which includes funding for HIV and AIDS was funding at $383 million, slightly below the President’s request, but a $24 million increase from 2013 post-sequestration levels. In an intriguing move, language included in the CDC section calls for increase coordination of research programming between CDC, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and NIH. You can read the full report here.
FDA—Out of the major US agencies involved in global health research, FDA fared the best in the omnibus. FDA is funded at a total of $2.552 billion in discretionary spending, an increase of $91 million from 2013 post-sequestration levels. Notably the omnibus allows FDA to get back $85 million in user fee money that was withheld as a result of the sequester.
Department of Defense (DoD)—While we’re still poring through the DoD’s appropriation package, early analysis reports that medical R&D funding saw increases, even as DoD’s overall budget was decreased. This may be a positive sign; as AAAS reports, research programs here may help lessen the impact of dire cuts at NIH.
While Congress should be applauded for protecting many of the programs that fund global health research in the omnibus package, the recent downward trend in NIH funding is troubling. NIH is the world’s leading research institution, and has funded the groundbreaking work behind the majority of global health tools available today. The role of NIH in the global health product development cannot be replaced or replicated elsewhere; if support continues to decline, urgently needed innovations will not reach those who need them. Congress and the Administration must continue to push global health progress forward by supporting robust funding for all US agencies that fund global health R&D during the FY 2015 budget and appropriations process.