RO1 Pay Line for 2004: 20th Percentile
Last week, President Bush signed into law the FY 2004 Omnibus Appropriations Bill. This legislation included the appropriations bill that funds the Department of Health and Human Services, including all NIH agencies. For NCI, the bill provides a budget of $4.77 billion, an increase of $178 million, or 3.9 percent, over FY 2003. Within the omnibus package, however, were provisions that required two rescissions, of which NCI's share is $31 million. As a result, the final FY 2004 budget increase for NCI is $147 million, or 3.2 percent.
The good news is that we remain at a historically high level of NCI funding for cancer research. The challenge is that the 3.2 percent increase means there are limited funds for new initiatives or program expansions. In fact, as a result of cost-of-living adjustments, an increasing number of noncompeting grants, and assessments to support the NIH Roadmap Initiative and other centralized activities, we are effectively operating with a budget that is $2.7 million less than last year's operating budget. This means that every decision to fund something new requires a decision not to fund something else.
Overall, the NIH budget doubled between 1998 and 2003. Over that same period, NCI's budget increased 81 percent. These unprecedented increases, which spanned two administrations, greatly benefited the cancer community. In fact, from 1998 to 2003, all major NCI programs saw significant increases, ranging from 58 percent to nearly 300 percent (see table).
We now have entered a period where similar budget increases are unlikely. To educate members of our advisory boards about issues related to allocation of resources in 2004 and beyond, on January 26, for the first time ever, we convened members of the three primary NCI chartered Federal advisory committees: the National Cancer Advisory Board, the Board of Scientific Advisors, and the Board of Scientific Counselors.
During the Joint Boards retreat, I presented participants with an overview of the NCI 2004 budget, how budget increases over the past five years have shaped the current portfolio, and what the FY 2004 appropriations may mean for current and future initiatives. To illustrate the nature of the financial decisions we are likely to face in FY 2005 and beyond, we examined the impact on various NCI programs of hypothetical scenarios that limited annual budget increases to 2 percent. We examined the potential impact this could have on high-priority areas, such as maintaining the RO1 pay line at the highest possible percentile, ensuring that training remains a priority, and cultivating the next generation of cancer researchers.
Preparing ourselves for this process was invaluable and ultimately helped us make important decisions about the current fiscal year. Overall, we will be funding more than 5,000 Research Project Grants (RPGs) in FY 2004 - the most in NCI history! More than 1,430 of these RPGs come from competing applications. In addition, we will allocate $113 million of our $147 million budget increase to support the RPG noncompeting, or type 5, grants at their committed level.
Specifically, the NCI is committed in FY 2004 to maintain the pay line for the independent competing RO1 investigator initiated grant at the 20th percentile. The tradeoff to achieve these targets is to reduce the recommended budget for competing RPGs by approximately 18 percent on average. Consideration will be given to lessening the impact of reductions on smaller grants and new investigators.
It is important to stress that we are taking other steps to address increasing costs in the face of limited budget increases, including the redeployment of internal operating funds. As a start in this process, I have asked each NCI division to implement a 5 percent reduction from last year's budget. Funding allocations for other NCI programs are being finalized. NCI will also reduce its staffing level (defined as FTEs, or full time equivalents) by approximately 5 percent by 2005 in order to operate within assigned FTE ceilings.
As we move forward, we are undertaking a strategic review of all current programs and initiatives at NCI to determine which should be terminated or scaled back and, in turn, how to redeploy those funds to more strategically focused areas. This will provide division directors with more flexibility to shift resources into areas of compelling need and/or that are more closely aligned with achieving our 2015 challenge goal of eliminating the suffering and death due to cancer.
All of this said, let me be clear that, as a community, we will continue to push forward, using the resources at our disposal as effectively and efficiently as possible. Our ability to work effectively in partnership with other organizations in the cancer research and care communities, and in the larger community, is more critical now than ever.
We have set an ambitious goal. Although we are no longer in an era of double-digit annual increases, I am confident that with the careful, strategic investment of our financial and intellectual resources, we will achieve this noble aim by 2015.
Andrew C. von Eschenbach, M.D.