Dr. Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), testified about the proposed FY 2018 budget for the NIH at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on June 22, 2017. Other witnesses included: Dr. Douglas Lowy, M.D., Acting Director of the National Cancer Institute; Dr. Gary Gibbons, M.D., Director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; Dr. Anthony Fauci, M.D., Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Dr. Richard Hodes, M.D., Director of the National Institute on Aging; Dr. Nora Volkow, M.D., Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse; and Dr. Joshua Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the National Institute of Mental Health.
The hearing was primarily focused on discussing treatments for various disease areas, such as Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer’s, sickle cell anemia, pediatric issues and auto-immune diseases. While NIH funding cuts in President Trump’s budget proposal was a widely-discussed topic, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) specifically expressed concern to Dr. Collins about the effects of cutting grant funding for indirect costs from 28% to 10%. The Senator asked Collins what would happen to his intramural research program if funding for indirect costs was reduced to 10%. Collins responded by stating that the issue has attracted a lot of attention in the biomedical research community and that “indirect costs” is an “unfortunate term” because it is difficult to determine what those costs refer to. He also suggested that it would be difficult to imagine how a facility would be managed if funding for such costs were to be reduced.
He further stated about indirect costs: “We are looking at every possible way that we might be able to assist in this conversation by identifying areas in which various administrative burdens that we ask institutions to follow could be reduced, because maybe they’re not as necessary as they are. So, we’re looking at our current regulations, for instance, about conflict of interest, about animal care, about effort reporting. We might in that process be able to identify a way to reduce somewhat the burden, but frankly I don’t think it would add up to an enormous difference in what we’re currently asking our grantee institutions to do, and they are the ones who do the work. We depend on them.”
According to Collins, indirect costs such as facilities, utilities, buildings, supply of light and water, operations of administrative services and animal care oversight are necessary to conduct research.