Science lobby creates NIH info ‘clearinghouse’

Organizations seeking greater funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) now have access to a “one-stop shopping” website where they can locate facts and figures to help make their case that the agency needs more federal dollars.

The NIH Advocacy Clearinghouse at nihadvocacy.org was created by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), an umbrella group representing more than 20 scientific societies. Its goal is to facilitate the efforts of its member organizations as well as allied scientific, academic and patient groups.

ADVERTISEMENT
The website provides current and historical information on how much money the NIH gets, what it spends that money on and what the fruits of that spending have been. The clearinghouse also offers materials such as PowerPoint slides and fact sheets that research-funding lobbyists and activists can use to substantiate their case to lawmakers and staff.

“We wanted to make it easier for the research community, policymakers and members of the public to find the data and materials they need to advocate for this lifesaving agency,” Howard Garrison, FASEB’s deputy executive director for public policy and director of the office of public affairs, said in a statement.

The clearinghouse is the latest tool the scientific community and its allies will employ to attempt to reverse the trend of shrinking budget increases at the NIH.

From 1998 to 2003, Congress and the Clinton and Bush administrations doubled the NIH’s budget, raising it from $13 billion to $27 billion. The budget’s rate of growth has decreased significantly since then, reaching $29.4 billion for the current fiscal year.

These resources are intended to be useful not only to science, university and patient groups, but to those on Capitol Hill as well, said Carrie Wolinetz, director of scientific affairs and public relations for FASEB. “Clearly, members of Congress, their staffs [and] the public” are included in FASEB’s anticipated audience, she said.

FASEB conceived of the clearinghouse as a means of creating a centralized collection of vital statistics about the NIH using information scattered across the Internet, much of which was written by FASEB. The website also directs user information directly from the NIH and other federal research agencies and to reports and data collected by other advocacy groups, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association of American Universities and the American Heart Association.

For fiscal 2008, including money added by supplemental appropriations, the NIH budget is $29.4 billion. President Bush asked for virtually the same amount in his fiscal 2009 budget request.

The House and Senate appropriations committees approved increases to $30.2 billion, but Congress is unlikely to complete its spending bills this year, leaving the NIH budget, like most other agencies’, in limbo. The fiscal year ends in less than two weeks.

Wolinetz said that FASEB is hopeful Congress will add money for the NIH to the continuing resolution being drafted to keep the government in operation, possibly until next year, or to an economic stimulus package.

FASEB is “very optimistic” that the next administration will support larger funding increases for the NIH, Wolinetz said, based on pledges by Republican presidential nominee John McCain and Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. “We’re starting to see a lot of hopeful signs,” she said.

Sens. McCain (Ariz.) and Obama (Ill.) provided answers to a questionnaire on science policy to ScienceDebate2008.com, a website sponsored by FASEB and a host of other advocacy groups. McCain responded this week; Obama provided his answers in August.

In response to a question about research funding, Obama said, “This situation is unacceptable. As president, I will increase funding for basic research in physical and life sciences, mathematics and engineering at a rate that would double basic research budgets over the next decade.”

McCain was less specific but stated his support for greater funding. “I am committed to reinvigorating America’s commitment to basic research, and will ensure my administration funds research activities accordingly. I have supported increased funding at [the Department of Energy], [the National Science Foundation] and NIH for years and will continue to do so. I will continue my commitment to ensure that the funding is properly managed and that the nation’s research needs are adequately addressed,” he said.