Reducing the Commitment to the National Institutes of Health

Dean Baker wishes the Washington Post knew how to put budget numbers in context:

The article briefly recounts the trend in NiH funding over the last decade and points out that the 2008 appropriation is $28.9 billion. It would have been far more informative to readers if the article had pointed out that NIH appropriation is equal to approximately 1.0 percent of federal spending or $97 per person.

The article is worth a read:

Stanford University biochemist Roger D. Kornberg won a Nobel Prize last year for work he began in the 1970s, but he is pretty sure that if he had been born a generation later, he never would have had the chance. The scientist, 60, is convinced that his groundbreaking research, in which he figured out how information in the DNA of a gene is copied to provide instructions for building and running a living cell, would never have gotten the necessary funding support in today’s tight budget environment at the National Institutes of Health. … Congress nearly doubled NIH’s budget – to $27.1 billion between 1998 and 2003 – as officials sought to capitalize on new lines of research opened up by the Human Genome Project. Medical schools and other research institutions responded accordingly, adding faculty and beginning construction on new facilities. At the same time, the number of grant applications rose 44 percent, from 24,151 in 1998 to 34,710 in 2003. But eventually the flood of new cash slowed to a trickle. At $28 billion, the NIH’s fiscal budget for 2004 was only 3.3 percent higher than the previous year’s. President Bush has recommended $28.9 billion for fiscal 2008 – $379 million less than the NIH got this year, according to agency figures.

Our graph shows NIH funding as a percent of GDP from 1977 to 2006. Before 1993, this ratio has remained below 0.15%. The ratio peaked at 0.247% as of 2003. Since then, the share of national income going to the NIH has declined. The article ends by noting that some Democrats think we should increase funding for the NIH.