Preserving NCI's Authority to Lead the National Cancer Program
The external advisory boards of NCI, including the Board of Scientific Advisors (BSA) which I am privileged to chair, met jointly last week to address the many critical issues now facing the cancer community. One concern widely felt by all of NCI's advisory committees is the need to preserve NCI's flexibility to manage the National Cancer Program during the current era of growing fiscal constraints on the entire biomedical research budget. Many unique programs and research initiatives have been created by NCI as a result of the special authorities and mission it was given by the National Cancer Act of 1971, which were so well described in the recent special issue of the NCI Cancer Bulletin.
The members of NCI's advisory boards believe strongly that NCI's senior leadership must retain the Institute's full responsibility and accountability along with its ability to redeploy resources and revise programs as they deem appropriate. Only a small portion (approximately 5 percent) of NCI's annual budget can be considered flexible and available to the Director to support or redeploy resources into novel areas of high-priority science. In this era of shrinking budgets, this 5 percent provides the principal support for this flexibility and creativity.
The boards' members recognized that the NIH Reauthorization Act is an important step in improving the efficiency and coordination of the federal government's overall agenda for biomedical research. It is important to recognize that this new legislation reaffirms the special authorities previously granted to NCI.
The NCI advisory boards stressed the urgent need to protect the limited funds available for NCI's discretionary deployment and believe that NCI's ability to respond to its mandated mission should not be compromised.
NCI's advisory boards' members believe that NCI's accountability to the American public and the cancer community to alleviate the burden of cancer requires that the Institute retain its full authority to act in accordance with that vital mission. We reiterated our full confidence in the NCI Director and Executive Committee to make the necessary and best decisions to redeploy fiscal resources and revise programmatic goals and policies in light of budgetary constraints. This is particularly true of NCI's unique research programs that differ from the traditional individual investigators awards.
The boards also expressed concern about the challenges of NCI absorbing substantial increases in the yearly contributions to support the NIH Roadmap Common Fund during a period of current and future budgetary challenges.
The new NIH Reauthorization Act establishes new structures for accelerating the pace of biomedical research in the country and more clearly defines NIH's leadership in that process. The NCI advisory boards are fully committed to working productively to facilitate this process. However, we are determined that the changes not inadvertently endanger the mission of NCI.
Dr. Robert C. Young