For the last two years, biomedical research has been on the upswing as federal dollars were pumped through the NIH and other agencies. But with the Obama administration's strategy shifting from increased spending to bolster the shaky economy to strict budget discipline to cut deficit spending, the old focus on trying to do more with less may soon be back in style in the lab.
The Office of Management and Budget, led by the outgoing Peter Orszag, is demanding a 5 percent budget cut from all agencies in line for non-defense dollars for the 2012 budget. And the NIH still has to wait and see how its $32.2 billion 2011 budget will fare in Congress.
In the meantime, the NIH has just launched a new program aimed at examining just how sizeable an impact its research budget has on the economy. Science and Technology for America's Reinvestment: Measuring the Effect of Research on Innovation, Competitiveness and Science, or STAR METRICS, began at the beginning of this month, according to a report in the Boston Globe.
Exactly how the new emphasis on belt tightening will all play out is still highly speculative. Orszag isn't just after small budgets; he's requiring agencies to make the case that they're spending the dollars they have left more wisely, culling out "low-impact" programs and eliminating anything that looks duplicative or wasteful.
"The bottom line is that we do not have the luxury of simply spending more; we must continually review all spending to make certain every dollar addresses a clear need or problem," according to the Orszag/Rahm Emanuel memo. That's not likely to play well with researchers, who complained loud and long about the Bush administration's parsimonious attitude toward the NIH.