|National Caucus of
Basic Biomedical Science Chairs
Meeting on June 9-11, 2005
We were briefed by colleagues from the AAMC, FASEB, Campaign for Medical Research,
the American Society for Microbiology, and Research!America in order to present a united
front. The issues we felt most important were:
1. The need to thank our political leaders for their previous NIH support.
2. To inform them of major scientific accomplishments in the fight
against disease, especially those resulting from the recent doubling
of the NIH budget.
3. To let our representatives in Congress understand that, in spite of the
tight Federal budget, the NIH budget needs to grow annually to sustain
the momentum of new discoveries in health research, and to avoid
negating previous increases.
4. To continue strong support for investigator-initiated R01 grants, and
to provide optimal balance between individual and team scientists
5. To request increases in the Federal budgets for closely related
science disciplines complementary to biomedical science.
6. To minimize unnecessary delays in the movement of foreign scientists
and students who wish to work with us.
7. To encourage additional Federal support for somatic cell nuclear
transfer research using embryonic stem cells.
8. To assist US academic medical centers in their financial struggles.
We discussed these items with the staff of key members of the House and Senate, including
many of the leadership of both Houses, as well as those on NIH appropriations committees
or members with special interest in the NIH. We also met with Dr. Norka Ruiz Bravo, Deputy
Director of Extramural Research, NIH. Other Caucus visitors included Dr. Kathie Olsen
(OSTP, White House Science advisors), Dr. Al Teich (AAAS), Mary Woolley
(Research!America), Dr. Martin Apple (Council of Scientific Society Presidents), Matt
Zonarich (Joint Steering Committee for Public Policy), Dr. Carrie Wolinetz (FASEB) and Scott
Lilly (Center for American Progress).
Our visitors were unanimous about the need for individual scientists
to stress the importance of their own achievements in health research
with their political representatives in their own home districts.
H. George Mandel, Ph.D.
The Caucus, comprised of presidents and other officers of associations of chairs of the
basic science departments of U.S. Medical Schools, now in its 16th year, held its annual
meeting in the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology, of The George Washington
University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Washington, D.C. Nineteen
representatives attended, as did three observers.
Before meeting with our political leaders, we were briefed by experts on the political process
regarding health research issues, the present status of funding for the NIH, and the
apparently dim prospects for an adequate increase in funding for FY2006. This briefing was
especially important because of the normal turnover of constituent association officers, so
that about half of our members at this meeting were new to the Caucus. The Caucus efforts
were therefore coordinated with those of other Washington groups speaking up for the
scientific community. The public affairs specialists of the Ad Hoc Group for Medical
Research Funding and the AAMC (David Moore); FASEB (Jon Retzlaff); Research!
America (Bill Leinweber); the Campaign for Medical Research (Kevin Mathis); and the
American Society for Microbiology (Janet Shoemaker) joined us to discuss what we jointly
considered our major aims, and to maximize our effectiveness. There is little slack in the
available “discretionary federal budget” so that major increases for the NIH at this time are
unlikely. Actually, the NIH has fared somewhat better than most other functions of
government, such as the CDC. It was emphasized that we should express our thanks to our
political leaders for their past interest in health research which provided increased funding
for this endeavor, that we should describe scientific breakthroughs that occurred because of
the previous doubling of the NIH budget, and that we should stress the enormous economic
benefits already accrued to the U.S. because of past expenditures in health research and
biotechnology, and the need to retain our leadership in the fight against disease. Ms.
Shoemaker also described the many recent concerns regarding funding of biodefense vs
basic microbial investigations, newly emerging microbial dangers, and issues of biosecurity,
all at a time when the allocation for biomedical funding is not keeping pace with the cost of
Other guests included Dr. Carrie Wolinetz, who brought us up to date on the value of
embryonic stem cell research and Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (a better term than
therapeutic cloning) and the positive achievements that have already accrued for human
health because of this new technology. Adult stem cell research should continue
simultaneously. Her excellent reports appear on the FASEB website. Mr. Scott Lilly, from
the Center for American Progress, explained that major increases in current federal
expenditures for non-defense-related research and development budgets claimed by the
Administration do not consider the extensive lag time involved in such calculations, since
many of the new increases represent out-year commitments made several years ago.
Responsibility for our current national deficit problems can be most closely linked to various
tax cuts, rather than the war in Iraq. Dr. Martin Apple, President of the Council of Scientific
Society Presidents, described the decline in the training of native and foreign scientists in
the U.S., and the likely shift of increased scientific output by Asian countries. He described
the disconnect between the scientific community and the general public and its political
leaders, and encouraged scientists to explain their contributions to the welfare and
economic growth to our people. Matt Zonarich, National Coordinator for the Joint Steering
Committee for Public Policy, described the attempts by scientists in genetics, cell biology and
neuroscience to educate Congress about scientific achievements and also alerting scientists
about upcoming political issues. The Director of the National Science Foundation was invited
but did not show because of a communications problem in his office.
The Caucus split into small teams to meet with many of the leaders of the Senate and House
of Representatives as well as others involved in health research and appropriations for the
NIH. Included were the staffs of Senators Specter, Harkin, Reid, Cochran, Santorum
and Bond, and of House Majority Leader DeLay, and Congressmen Blunt, Barton,
Deal, Regula, Gordon and Walsh. Senate Majority Whip McConnell did not meet with
us because our delegation did not have a constituent from Kentucky, although we assured
his office that we represented several medical centers in that state. During our discussions
we expressed our extreme concern about the future of the NIH budget, which has been rising
at less than the science-related inflationary increase ever since the doubling. We explained
the need to continue our momentum of funding the best of the many new imaginative ideas
arising from recent biomedical breakthroughs, and that an inadequate NIH budget will also
discourage the best and brightest of our young people from entering careers in science,
thereby limiting future achievements. Minimal increases, as proposed in the Administration
budget for the NIH will, in fact, negate the valuable contributions made by the previous
doubling of the NIH budget. The Caucus provided our political leaders with our brief
brochure describing recent scientific achievements resulting from earlier generous
increases, as well as the conclusion of the recent report of the Council on Competitiveness
(a largely business-oriented organization) which emphasized that failure to innovate in
scientific research and development means an abdication of our prosperity.
For dinner we met with Dr. Norka Ruiz Bravo, Deputy Director of Extramural Research,
NIH, with whom we discussed NIH policy and our concern about the reduced success rate of
funding of R01 grants despite the increased NIH budget in the past several years. Faculty
members still consider the R01 grant the optimal mechanism for testing outstanding and
imaginative ideas from individual researchers. Program and Center grants enable multi-
disciplinary accomplishments, which are also required, but an appropriate balance between
the two approaches is needed. The benefits formally recognizing the Co-P.I. were discussed,
as were the appropriate duration of post-doctoral support (5 years), concerns about the
quality of ad hoc reviewing, the fact that the average age at which the first R01 grant
awarded is 41, and the need for training grants in a non-growing NIH budget.
Other guests to our Caucus were Mary Woolley, President of Research!America, who
discussed survey results revealing the strong desire of our population everywhere to
increase research on health and disease, their willingness to pay more for it, and the major
economic advantages resulting from such research. She pointed out that such research is
an “economic driver” for the nation. She also mentioned the disconnect between scientists
and the general public, and that in recent surveys, most of the general public could not
name even a single scientist. Scientists should therefore become more aggressive in being
recognized, since technological advances lead to improvements in life for everybody. ”We
scientists are working for you, the typical citizen!” Again, it was emphasized that scientists
should invite their Congressional representatives while in their home districts, and to
highlight the accomplishments of their local medical schools and research institutions. That
approach, which most scientists are hesitant to initiate, can be even more productive than
visiting political leaders in Washington where they are so extremely busy.
Dr. Albert Teich, Director of the AAAS Science and Policy Program, mentioned the AAAS
Leadership seminar in science and technology policy to be provided in Washington in
November. He also addressed the issue of foreign students and scientists who have been
training or collaborating with U.S. investigators, or who wish to do so. Often they have
experienced unnecessary and severe delays or denials in entering or reentering the U.S.
because of national security concerns. This issue also affects patients trying to receive
medical treatment in the U.S.. Major efforts have already been made to shorten delays while
maintaining the need for security vigilance. It is recognized that foreign participation with us
has been essential for the success of the American scientific enterprise. The AAAS is also
very concerned with the controversy about evolution vs. intelligent design & creationism, and
that more education is needed in the entire country.
Dr. Kathie Olsen, currently Associate Director for Science, Office of Science and
Technology Policy, the White House, and deputy-director-designate of the National Science
Foundation, described the many career opportunities available for students with scientific
training, and felt that greater efforts are needed to improve science education in the whole
country. She also felt that the severe conflict of interest policy currently experienced at the
NIH should be modified, since these policies have created major problems affecting the
overall excellent performance of the NIH.
Tony Mazzaschi, Director of the Council of Academic Societies of the AAMC, described
current issues, such as the level of trainee stipends for those on training grants, tax
changes for post-doctoral students, conflict of interest standards outside of the NIH, and the
rising cost of homeland security. Gone are the days when the scientific community had
strong champions for science in the Congress! He also discussed the upcoming national
meeting of medical school basic science department chairs in Salt Lake City October 7-9,
and asked for input in the development of the agenda.
In other Caucus business, a note of appreciation was prepared and signed by attending
Caucus members, for the many years of excellent participation and service as Vice Chair of
the Caucus by Dr. Antonio Scarpa, who resigned from the Caucus because of his
impending appointment as Director of the Center for Scientific Review of the NIH. Also, a
committee was appointed to evaluate the future of the Caucus should there be a change in
leadership by the current chairman (although not currently planned!), and to consider the
role the Caucus should perform in its advocacy of basic biomedical science.
In summary, we were distressed that the likelihood of a realistic NIH budget for FY 2006
remains dim because the total discretionary portion of the federal budget remains limited.
The reasons include the significant increase in the federal debt resulting from the enacted
tax cuts, the lack of growth in the sluggish economy, the increased expenditures for
homeland security, and of course the war in Iraq. However, we feel it is necessary to
constantly remind our political leaders of the valuable contribution that medical research has
produced for the improved health of our nation, and the positive economic results in science
and technology that have for a long time been responsible for our country’s success and
prosperity. However, unless we sustain that drive, we will not maintain that standard and
quality of life. Every survey conducted by Research!America has demonstrated that our
population overwhelmingly supports increases in health research. It is up to biomedical
scientists to continue to speak out and relay this message to their local political
leaders and to demonstrate to them what, in their own districts, their work has
H. George Mandel