President signs appropriations bill for Departments of Health and Human Services, Education and Defense

Solid increases enacted for health and defense research

The president has signed into law the nearly $800 billion “minibus” bill that funds the Departments of HHS, Education and Defense, along with the Continuing Resolution which included the seven remaining funding bills the House and Senate had not passed. This was done with two days to spare before Fiscal Year 2019 begins on October 1. You can see colorful details of this spending below courtesy of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

National Institutes of Health. Congress provided NIH with a $2 billion increase. This is the fourth year in a row the NIH budget has been increased by at least that amount. For FY 2019, NIH receives a better than five percent boost, and while much of the increase is targeted to specific programs, every individual institute’s budget is increased by at least 2.6 percent. Psychologists should note:

  • Alzheimer’s research receives an increase of $425 million, bringing total spending to $2.3 billion. The National Institute on Aging would thus get the most substantial of all the institutes’ increases, a jump of 19.8 percent.

  • The Cancer Moonshot research initiative is allocated $400 million, an increase of $100 million.

  • The agreement includes $1.3 billion total for research into opioid addiction, alternatives, and pain management.

  • BRAIN Initiative funding rises to $429 million, matching House and Senate figures. Precision medicine funding rises to $376 million.

  • Conferees rejected the recommendation from the Administration's FY 2019 budget to consolidate three other federal agencies within NIH (including the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality).

The AAAS has developed a useful chart showing the past twenty years of NIH funding, highlighting a few of NIH’s 27 institutes and centers.  

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With continued funding increases beginning in 2016, the NIH is now $16.1 million above FY 2013 sequestration levels in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While CDC facilities received a large one-time boost in last year’s omnibus, this bill gives CDC programs a modest 1.6 percent increase. And yet, final CDC funding is 29.6 percent or $1.7 billion above the Administration’s budget request.  Congress added $5 million to assess the infectious disease consequences of the national opioid epidemic. The bill also provides level funding of $210 million for CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health, which had been in jeopardy. 

Institute for Education Sciences. IES in the Department of Education will receive $615 million, up $2 million over the FY 2018 enacted level.  

Department of Defense. DOD science and technology funding was boosted across all accounts and branches. Total DOD S&T funding rises by $1.1 billion above FY 2018, a 7.6 percent increase, and $2.3 billion above the Administration request (see AAAS chart below).

Defense S&T (excluding medical research) will reach its highest point in FY 2019 since FY 2006, adjusting for inflation. DOD basic research funding will likely reach an all-time high in total inflation-adjusted dollars. Basic DoD research received an eight percent or $186 million increase, with similar relative jumps across all military branches.

The bill includes an 8.2 percent increase for Defense Research Science program elements to $1.6 billion total. The Minerva Initiative  received $2 million above the request or $12.8 million total, a 25 percent increase above FY 2018 levels.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) scored an 11.7 percent increase above FY 2018 levels. That includes $30 million for the Electronics Resurgence Initiative, $40 million for artificial intelligence research, and $30 million for hypersonic weapons development and transition.

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Legislators provided $2.2 billion for Defense Health Program research, development, test, and evaluation, a 6.9 percent increase from FY 2018. The conferees added substantial funding for peer reviewed medical research across an array of disease areas, especially cancers; total funding is slightly above $1.0 billion this year.

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Science funding in this legislation is a bright spot. It would not be possible had Congress not adopted a two-year agreement to spend above the budget caps in FY 2018 and 2019.  The Budget Control Act of 2011, with its austere spending caps and sequestration provisions, remains in law, and without a temporary or permanent fix, science funding and other programs will not be so fortunate in FY 2020.  That’s why APA and fellow scientific societies will continue calling on Congress to “Raise the Caps” in the next fiscal year.  

More than ever, our government needs scientists in its midst

The potential of the APA Executive Branch Science Fellowship to influence policy in the short- and long-term.

By Amanda M. Dettmer


Dr. Dettmer is an Associate Research Scientist at the Yale Child Study Center in New Haven, CT.

The impact of a child’s early environment on later social, cognitive, and behavioral development is well understood in the context of parenting and caregiving. My own research in this area, relying on nonhuman primate models, has shed light on the influences of parenting interactions and early social environments on subsequent cognition, social rank, and chronic stress.

However, it was my foray into local politics that sparked my interest in science policy: as the Governing Council chair for my local public Montessori charter school in Frederick, Maryland – where my husband taught and my children were fortunate to attend – I had direct interactions with the Frederick County Board of Education (BOE) dealing with education policy. In observing my husband teach, my children learn, and the county and BOE govern, it became clear to me that children’s school environment, where they spend the majority of their waking hours, must be impacting their brain and development as well. But education was a new arena for me professionally.

How could I gain more expertise at this intersection of early schooling, brain and behavioral development, and policy? The American Psychological Association’s Executive Branch Science Fellowship was the answer. I was incredibly honored to be selected as the 2017-18 Executive Branch Science Fellow, and the experience was more rewarding than I expected. I learned the intricacies of education research and its impacts on federal policymaking and funding, I made significant contributions to my host agency, and I left the Fellowship with invaluable knowledge and a superb new network of colleagues that I now carry with me in my research.

Institute of Education Sciences

My primary placement was at the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), which is the research agency of the U.S. Department of Education (ED). The dedicated civil servants at IES, many of whom have been there for many years, made clear that, despite the current political climate, our country has dedicated people working every day to improve the education our children receive.

IES was the perfect fellowship placement for me given my background as a developmental psychologist with a burgeoning interest in education policy. During my year at IES, I worked primarily in the National Center for Education Research (NCER), one of the four centers of IES. NCER supports rigorous research that addresses significant education issues in our country. I worked on a number of projects at NCER, all of which increased my understanding of education policy and the value that social scientists bring to the government: 

  •  Cognition and Student Learning (CASL) research supports work that increases our understanding of how the brain works to inform and improve education practices. Here, I analyzed the portfolio of funded research grants from 2002-2017 for an invited paper to the Journal of Cognition and Development, thus identifying potential areas for future funding. I also organized a Technical Working Group consisting of the nation’s leading education researchers, educators, and education technology developers to probe the areas of greatest need for understanding the intersection between neuroscience and education, again identifying potential funding priorities for IES moving forward.

  • The Early Learning Network (ELN) is a nationwide consortium of researchers seeking to advance the understanding of policies and practices that influence the achievement gap and early learning success in children in grades K-3. For ELN, I analyzed the progress of five states that had been granted funding by ED to either develop or enhance their preschool programs, thereby identifying areas in which the ELN could provide expert technical assistance for the grantees to achieve their goals.

Toward the end of my Fellowship, I developed a rubric to evaluate the effectiveness of Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships (RPP) in education research. RPPs are programs that IES funds to support partnerships between research institutions and state or local education agencies to study high-priority areas with respect to improving student education outcomes. My evaluation system is now being used to determine future funding levels for these important grants. It is perhaps here more than any other area during my Fellowship that I felt my contribution as a scientist would have the most direct impact on policymaking, both for federal funding and for state and local education agencies.

A new kind of scientist

Although these are just some of the ways I worked to learn about and influence policymaking during my Fellowship, I feel the experience was more impactful for me as a scientist. I was fortunate to be working side-by-side with some of the nation’s brightest, most generous, and most dedicated people. It is so easy to think of the federal government as a big, faceless machine, but these individuals, whom I now consider both colleagues and friends, were eager to work with me to tackle the country’s ever-growing education issues. Their continued sense of duty is one I take with me back to science. The methodology and theory of education research, as well as my newfound knowledge of education policymaking, now shapes some of my new scientific inquiries.

Now more than ever, it’s clear that children’s well-being and optimal development depends on scientists with a solid understanding of the federal government. Having completed this Fellowship and taking a new position as a research scientist at the Yale University Child Study Center, I am now better prepared to tackle pressing questions about child development. I am also better prepared to translate research findings into policy, and I am eager to shape my science in this new direction. I thank the APA and its staff for supporting me in this Fellowship.

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A psychological scientist joins the chorus voicing support for NIH

Advocates meet with their Members of Congress to urge increased funding for medical research.

By David C. Schwebel

Dr. Schwebel is university professor of psychology and associate dean at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The Rally for Medical Research is an annual event designed to bring together the wide-ranging groups who support National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded medical research. As psychologists know quite well, medical research – including that conducted by psychologists – undeniably saves and improves lives. At the 2018 Rally for Medical Research, I joined patients, physicians, scientists, and members representing dozens of other organizations, traveling from across the United States to meet with their Members of Congress and share their personal stories to help the Senators and Representatives recognize the value of NIH-funded medical research.

I am a pediatric psychologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and I was fortunate to work with the American Psychological Association (APA) and participate in the Rally on September 12-13, 2018. The process was simple. I created a short biographical sketch on my research program that implements behavioral strategies to prevent unintentional child injuries. My description included summaries of several current and recent NIH grants and emphasized their value to improve American lives.

On the first day of the Rally in Washington, DC, I attended an advocacy training session with rally organizers who provided guidance on how to tell a compelling story about how NIH funding has impacted me and my research program, and we reviewed the talking points for the meetings with our Members of Congress.  The training was followed by a terrific reception on Capitol Hill highlighted by talks from Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS).  There was also an inspiring statement by NIH Director Francis Collins with whom I briefly chatted to thank for NIH’s support of my laboratory. Another big plus of the first day in DC was the opportunity to meet the rest of my Alabama delegation “team” – our skilled government relations team leader and two Birmingham-area cancer survivors.

 David Schwebel visiting the office of Richard Shelby (R-AL)

David Schwebel visiting the office of Richard Shelby (R-AL)

The Rally Hill Day started with a breakfast together, followed by four meetings with Members of Congress “on the Hill.” Our Alabama team began the day with a senior staffer in Sen. Richard Shelby’s (R-AL) office, a crucial visit given Senator Shelby’s position as member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees NIH funding. My teammates shared their powerful stories of surviving cancer and the impact of NIH-funded research on immunotherapy and cryopreservation. I offered my own story, a description of my research program and examples of how it translated to save and improve children’s lives in Alabama, across America, and throughout the world. The staffer listened intently. Our pitch was an easy sell: Senator Shelby is known to be a strong supporter of NIH.

We met next with a staffer in Sen. Doug Jones’ (D-AL) office. We repeated our stories, and the reception was similar: A supportive office – this time on the Democratic side of the aisle rather than Republican. The visit was productive. Rain was falling in Washington, so our experienced team leader negotiated the underground tunnel systems for us, crossing under the Capitol from the Senate to House office buildings. Fueled by lunch, our next meeting was with a staffer in Rep. Terri Sewell’s (D-AL) office, one of the two representatives who represents the Birmingham metro area. Our stories were again told, and we left with positive feedback.

Our last meeting of the day was in Rep. Gary Palmer’s (R-AL) office, and here awaited a treat: rather than a staffer, we would meet with Rep. Palmer himself. We engaged in a friendly and lengthy interchange, telling our stories and hearing the Congressman’s perspectives. Unlike the others, Rep. Palmer expressed some hesitation about our requests to support the Senate-proposed $2 billion increase for NIH, suggesting he needed to see the full bill before he could support it. I was not devastated though; we had convincingly told our story and Rep. Palmer listened carefully, assuring us he would consider the bill carefully.

At each of the four visits, I offered to host the Members of Congress for a visit and tour of my university laboratory. Each expressed interest, and perhaps that will happen. Even if it does not, I felt that I had delivered a key message to the officials who represent me, my district, state, and country: NIH research, including that done by psychologists, helps us live happier, healthier, and longer lives. It must remain a national priority. And I found the individuals elected to serve – two Democrats and two Republicans – were receptive to hearing that message and ensuring the citizens they represent are served well by psychological science.

Thanks to APA for supporting my travel to the Rally. I have only vague memories of the last (and only other) time I walked the hallways of our congressional office buildings, as a middle-schooler on the all-American school trip to Washington, DC, when I and my classmates met for a photo-op with our congressman. Several decades between visits was far too long, and I expect my next visit to advocate will come sooner. Our voices as psychologists must be heard to help shape the direction of our country.

Taking another look at the BRAIN Initiative

NIH seeks input on next phase: understanding brain circuitry.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently released a  Request for Information (RFI; NOT-NS-18-075) soliciting feedback on the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative  The purpose of the RFI is to gain feedback on the vision, priorities and goals outlined in BRAIN 2025: A Scientific Vision, the strategic plan for the BRAIN Initiative issued in 2014.

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NIH seeks feedback from scientists on registration and reporting of basic human research

Submit comments and share with APA for inclusion in APA’s response.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has taken two steps this summer toward clarifying and possibly revising its recent policy that would include basic research conducted with humans within its definition of clinical trials and would impose requirements designed for clinical trials on the registration and reporting of basic research.

On July 20, the NIH issued a Guide Notice (NOT-OD-18-212) explaining its plan to loosen enforcement for basic research projects of clinical trials registration and reporting requirements through September 24, 2019.  (See previous report.)

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