National Cancer Advisory Board meets and receives update on NIH budget uncertainty

NCI Director Harold Varmus and other institute directors have been considering multiple strategies that will enable them to continue to fund some new grants if sharp budgets are imposed.

Harold Varmus, MD, director of the National Cancer Institute, presented his director's report on Feb. 8 to a National Cancer Advisory Board concerned about the uncertainty of the NIH's fiscal year 2013 budget. Dr. Varmus reported that NIH, like the rest of the government, is very concerned about the pending sequester, and that he and other institute directors have been considering multiple management strategies that will enable them to continue to fund some new grants if sharp budget cuts are imposed. He did not provide details. Government agencies are currently operating under a continuing resolution, funding the agencies at fiscal year 2012 levels until March 27. The double dilemma for federal agency managers is that they don't yet know their final budgets against which the sequestration cuts (estimates vary between 5.1 and 6.4 percent) will be imposed on March 1 if Congress does not override current law. An Office of Management and Budget report on sequestration issued on Feb. 9 advises that since cuts will fall on only seven months of unspent funds instead of 12 months, the effective cuts to nondefense agencies like NIH would be nine percent.

Dr. Varmus referred to fiscal year 2012 statistics (PDF, 401KB) he had provided to the Advisory Council in November, with information about success rates for the various funding mechanisms. For applications scoring in the tenth percentile or above, the success rate was approximately 15 percent.

Amid the budget uncertainty for fiscal year 2013, Dr. Varmus told the council he does not have information about fiscal year 2014 numbers. NIH has not yet received its 'passback' budget for fiscal year 2014 from the Department of Health and Human Services.

The council also heard presentations about the Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975 – 2009, on a meta-analysis on the effect of Body Mass Index on all-cause mortality, and on the Human Papilloma Virus vaccine. Slides from those presentations will be posted on the National Cancer Advisory Board website in the coming days. Interested readers should also note that webcasts of National Cancer Advisory Board meetings are archived and can be found, after a couple of weeks' delay, on the NIH website.

For more information on this issue contact Pat Kobor.