Day number two of the ASMBM hill visit was busy, busy, busy. Each group of two students/postdocs and one or two PAAC members grabbed a light breakfast, and then it was off on the Metro to the Senate/Congressional offices.
Something I was not ready for was the actual size of the congressional offices. Some are really, really tiny, and others (especially the Senators’ offices) are rather large. In the older buildings, there are obvious additions – such as power outlets that protrude from the middle of the floor about three inches. Other offices have comfortable appointments such as couches and meeting areas. In the Hart Senate office building, there is a striking sculpture that looms in a sunny atrium. People seemed to have mixed opinions, but I really like it.
Overall, even though it was tiring, it was great to meet with the staff of many congressional offices. The staff were all very well informed and well spoken. Most agreed with our message of funding the NIH at $32 billion for FY2013. Most also felt that this will be tough to make work during an election year. I also learned more about the details surrounding sequestration.
We were not able to meet directly with any senators or congressional representatives, except for Rep. Rush Holt from New Jersey’s 12th district. Rep. Holt was a keynote speaker for the AAAS FY2013 R&D seminar, which we were able to attend, and which was very informative.
The consensus among most staffers is that NIH funding comes back to the US economy many times over, and that under-funding the NIH for the past decade has been a mistake. After setting out to double the NIH budget over the course of 12 years with 6% increases, which was a bipartisan effort initiated by the Senate Republicans, funding efforts to the NIH have stopped. The president’s budget for this year calls for flat-funding which does not even account for a ~3% inflation.
We can not continue to let NIH funding stagnate. For PhD researchers, the average age for obtaining your first R01 is now over 42. This means that young and sometimes innovative research scientists are missing their peak period of productivity. With China increasing funding for science research and education over the past decade, the United States needs to worry about our international competitiveness.