House and Senate appropriators have both proposed double-digit percentage budget boosts for the National Institutes of Health in their spending legislation for fiscal year 2022. The Senate bill, released last week, proposes to increase NIH’s current $43 billion topline by $5 billion, while the House bill proposes a $6.5 billion increase. Either amount would represent by far the largest increase among the string of multi-billion-dollar boosts Congress has provided NIH in each of the past six years, though they fall short of the $9 billion increase requested by the Biden administration.
Both bills strongly support the administration’s proposal to stand up an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA–H) but allocate less than half the $6.5 billion the administration requested for it. They also stipulate that the funds are contingent on Congress passing legislation that formally authorizes the agency.
Total funding for NIH’s existing activities would increase by 8% under the House proposal and 6% under both the Senate and administration proposals. Reports by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees convey more specific funding direction and policy priorities. Summary-level figures are collected in the FYI Federal Science Budget Tracker.
ARPA–H concept gains traction
The House bill includes $3 billion for ARPA–H, while the Senate bill allocates $2.4 billion. In both cases, NIH would be permitted to spend the funds until the end of fiscal year 2024, as requested by the administration.
Establishing ARPA–H is a personal priority of President Biden, who highlighted the proposal in his first address to Congress. His administration has stated the agency would draw on the management approach pioneered by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which relies on term-limited program managers to drive forward high-risk, high-reward research.
The administration has proposed to configure ARPA–H as a division within NIH, which itself is located in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). However, some advocacy groups have argued that to help the agency develop the right culture, it should be established outside of NIH. Addressing this subject, the Senate report states,
As ARPA–H remains unauthorized and there are differing views on where the new entity should be placed within the department, the committee’s recommendation should not be viewed as favoring its placement within NIH. The committee remains open to making it a free-standing component within NIH or, alternatively, as a separate new agency. …
The real challenge, widely recognized, is how to recreate in ARPA–H the prescient, venture-capital-like culture that exists at DARPA. This will be very difficult to do, as …….