Early this morning the President signed legislation passed by Congress late last night to reopen the government and increase the federal debt ceiling. This ends the 16-day shutdown of the federal government which began with the start of the 2014 fiscal year (FY) on October 1, 2013.
The agreement includes a continuing resolution which will keep the government funded at current, post-sequestration FY 2013 levels through January 15, 2014 - the date FY 2014 sequestration cuts are scheduled to take place according to the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011.
The 27 Institutes and Centers that make up the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reopened this morning, along with the rest of the federal government. Now that the shutdown is over, the challenge of reestablishing normal operations begins.
Enrollment in clinical trials sponsored by NIH, which was halted during the shutdown, will resume. Research conducted directly by NIH will also resume, although not all researchers will be able to seamlessly pick up where they left off before the shutdown.
Research already funded, but not directly conducted, by NIH was allowed to continue during the shutdown. However, new research applications were not processed during this time, and support was not available to researchers with previously awarded grants. The NIH has said that they "are back to work and planning how to handle missed application due dates, review meetings, etc." Information will be posted to http://grants.nih.gov/grants/oer.htm as soon as it becomes available.
With the continuing resolution maintaining funding at the post-sequestration FY 2013 levels, NIH continues with a budget that is 7.8% below FY 2012 levels (a cut of roughly $2.5 billion annually). The public health community, including IFFGD and DHA, has advocated for an increase in NIH funding to at least $32 billion annually in order to maintain current research projects and implement critical new research initiatives. Any funding cuts, or even level funding, for NIH amounts to a delay in the overall effort to improve treatment options and find cures for those affected by digestive health conditions.
Unless Congress can come to an agreement, further sequestration cuts are scheduled to take place in 2014 that could cut the NIH budget even further. Unlike the first round of across the board sequestration cuts in 2013, the process established by BCA for spending cuts in each year from 2014 through 2021 is quite different. The BCA established newly reduced caps for total non-defense appropriations, with cuts to be determined through the normal appropriations process.
While not addressing sequestration directly in the legislation passed last night, House and Senate leaders have agreed to hold a conference with members of both houses of Congress to determine long-term spending and budgetary issues, including matters related to FY 2014. This conference is to be completed by December 13, 2013 and creates an opportunity for Congress to reconsider some of the automatic cuts under sequestration.
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