Fattening Up NIH

Penury to Plenty

When George W. Bush announced in February that he planned to ask Congress for the largest increase in NIH's budget in history, the scientific establishment was pleased, but not surprised. Although former NIH Director Harold Varmus publicly endorsed Al Gore, as did many institute directors privately, they did so because of concern about Bush's policies on embryonic stem cell research and his long-standing conservative political convictions, not because the Texan would pinch their purses. In fact, Bush and Al Gore pledged during the campaign to make good on a bipartisan commitment to double NIH's fiscal 1999 budget by fiscal 2003.

Indeed, federal investment in biomedical research is remarkable not only for the breadth of support across that transcends political boundaries, but also for the lack of criticism or oversight. There is a small industry in Washington of public interest groups and academic think tanks that watch, criticize and analyze the activities of virtually every government agency. But not NIH.