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  • Updated: 10/05/2010

NCI Budget Process

The National Cancer Institute's annual budget process is divided into three phases:

  1. Formulation
  2. Presentation
  3. Execution

 1. Formulation

NCI's fiscal year begins on October 1. Planning for each year's budget usually begins in the spring, 18 months earlier. At that time, NIH leadership, including the Directors of NIH and NCI, as well as the other Institutes and Centers (ICs) at NIH, meet during a Directors Retreat and discuss goals and policies for the upcoming fiscal year. They discuss and analyze potential priorities and fiscal choices by each Institute as well as seek to understand the impact of those choices in future fiscal years. The NCI Executive Committee (EC) - made up of NCI leadership including the NCI Director, Deputy Directors, Division and Center Directors, and senior administrative staff - use the policies established during the Directors Retreat to develop budget plans for NCI .

NCI's leadership is informed by and benefits throughout the year from hundreds, if not thousands, of scientists, advocates, and others who give their time to serve the Institute on advisory boards and ad-hoc scientific committees. All of these activities - whether it is a review of an NCI research program (intramural research is research conducted at NCI), a workshop on the state of the science, or participation in an advocacy summit - contribute to defining high-priority NCI programs that NCI leadership address in its budget formulation.

NCI Director's Bypass Budget - The Nation's Investment in Cancer Research

NCI is unique among Federal agencies in that the National Cancer Act of 1971 (P.L. 92-218) established that NCI "prepare and submit, directly to the President for review and transmittal to Congress, an annual budget estimate." Commonly referred to as the Bypass Budget, NCI submits this professional judgment budget directly to the President, effectively bypassing the usual budget submission process from the NCI Director to the National Institutes of Health Director to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

The Bypass Budget describes the opportunities that would greatly benefit cancer research if there were no other competing funding priorities considered by the Federal Government. It is commonly used by NCI staff, the research community, professional organizations, and advisory groups, as well as advocacy organizations and public and private policy makers as a general statement on priorities and opportunities in cancer research.

The Bypass Budget is developed beginning about 18 months prior to the appropriation from Congress for that fiscal year. NCI leadership works with the NCI's Offices of Science Planning and Assessment, and Budget and Finance, to set priorities and identify areas of emphasis that would require substantial budget increases. Draft versions of the Bypass Budget are often reviewed by not only NCI staff but also by advisory boards, other government agencies, and research and advocacy organizations around the country. By law, the final Bypass Budget cannot be altered or modified by officials within DHHS. The Bypass Budget is sent to the President in late fall for consideration in developing the President's Budget.

The next step in the formulation phase of the budget is the presentation of the NCI budget request to National Institutes of Health (NIH) senior leadership. NCI has the opportunity to discuss NCI's goals, accomplishments and future directions. Often policy, rather than specific projects, is emphasized at this phase.

Following this presentation, NCI's budget is prepared within specific guidelines set by the current administration. The review process required for this budget involves modifications by the NIH Director, Assistant Secretary for Health at the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and the DHHS Secretary.

The last step in the formulation phase is for the President to submit NIH's and NCI's budget request to Congress in early February.

 2. Presentation

After the President submits a budget request to Congress, the presentation portion of the budget process begins. Between February and April the NCI Director presents and defends the NCI portion of the President's budget before subcommittees of the Appropriations Committees of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. In addition, the subcommittees also hear testimony from other expert witnesses regarding the execution of the National Cancer Program as it is coordinated and conducted by NCI.

At the same time that the President submits his budget request to Congress, each Federal agency submits a document to Congress called the Congressional Justification. This document describes and supports the President's budget request and explains the mission of the agency, outlines the goals and objectives of the coming fiscal year, and provides budget numbers for the prior, current, and next fiscal years.

Following deliberations, the subcommittees of the Appropriations Committees, and later the full Appropriations Committees, revise the President's budget request and decide on funding levels for the Federal Government. These funding levels are published in appropriation bills which must be approved by both the House of Representatives and the Senate and then signed into law by the President.

 3. Execution

NCI prepares for the appropriation from Congress by holding a 2-day Executive Committee (EC) retreat about three months prior to the beginning of the fiscal year. At the retreat NCI leadership establishes funding levels for NCI Divisions, Centers, and Offices using an estimated appropriation level. The EC also discusses fiscal strategies for future fiscal years.

At the retreat, Directors of NCI Divisions and Centers present the research programs funded through their offices and indicate their funding preferences. Together, during the 2-day retreat and many additional meetings, the EC members evaluate programs in order to prioritize them. This complex process provides the entire NCI leadership with an in-depth understanding of major NCI initiatives. It also allows NCI leadership to see how resources can be used more efficiently across different NCI Divisions and Centers.

Throughout the year, the EC continues to address major issues of management, resource allocation, and program priorities. Advice provided by external advisory boards is incorporated into specific operating plans. Budget policy for future years is established with special emphasis on the next fiscal year.

To maintain momentum toward the Institute's scientific goals, the EC rigorously reviews all Division, Center, and Office programs. They must make difficult decisions to maintain, downsize, or eliminate programs. During the past several years the EC has reduced or phased out certain programs, allowing the funds from these projects to be used for new programs, or to increase funding for high-priority existing programs. This allows NCI to strategically invest funds during the years when the budget is not increased compared to the prior year.

Once NCI receives funding, many forms need to be completed and approved by NIH and the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB). NCI prepares and submits a financial plan so that appropriated funds can be allotted to NCI. In the final phase of execution, NCI then distributes funds to each Division, Center, and Office according to the EC decisions.