Welcome Fiscal Year 2014! - Or Not?

October 21st, 2013
Today marks the beginning of the third week of Fiscal Year 2014 for the U.S. federal government.  Originally, I intended to send out this message on October 1st, at the start of the Fiscal Year. But, among its many other effects, the 16-day government shutdown prevented that.  Unfortunately, even though the government has reopened, it is going to take many weeks to resolve the numerous problems created by the shutdown.  We are well-aware that the shutdown not only affected us as federal employees, but many of you as well, and those of us at NHGRI (and NIH) are working hard to normalize our operations.  So, I ask for your patience as we endeavor to undo the damage, but also want to assure you that you can contact us at any time to discuss any shutdown-related problems. 

While I do not like to admit it, the funding situation for U.S. biomedical research (generally) and NHGRI (specifically) clouds almost everything that I deal with on a daily basis. The profound and continuing uncertainties about funding levels, make the job of managing NHGRI and its research portfolio a too-often frustrating task. I would note that none of this would be as frustrating if only genomics research was slow moving, unexciting, and unlikely to have a significant impact on human health; however, in reality, just the opposite is true.

While I have seen individual laboratory budgets squeezed, excellent programs cut, and new initiatives left unfunded, my job is to ensure that NHGRI continues to support the highest quality scientific programs and grantees, so that we can deliver on the promise of genomics. Towards that end, there are a number of specific things that the Institute is doing to balance multiple priorities during a time of suboptimal resources.

In our Extramural Research Program, we continually adjust our grant portfolio to maintain a balance of support for different areas of study, different types of investigators, and different kinds of projects, all while trying to stay on the cutting edge of this incredibly fast-paced area of science. Although the funding outlook is not terribly optimistic and is often unclear until the last minute, we do not hesitate to propose innovative ideas for new initiatives. While we have delayed launching some new programs, we have not abandoned them. If for some reason more funds were to become available, we have some phenomenal new ideas in our 'back pocket' on which we could swiftly move forward.

We are also continuing to reach out to our partners in an effort to leverage resources and promote common interests in these tight times. In particular, we look across NIH for partnerships with other Institutes or Centers; in fact, the majority of our recent new initiatives have involved developing a co-funding partnership with another NIH Institute. NHGRI also participates extensively in a number of trans-NIH initiatives, again leveraging our resources with those amassed centrally. The new Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) initiative (bd2k.nih.gov) is a great example of that, and something that I will make sure to discuss more in a future installment of The Genomics Landscape.

Our Intramural Research Program has also made significant cuts and adjustments to deal with the consequences of the sequester. These have included not replacing staff who have departed the Institute and altering the budgeting process so as to provide our intramural investigators more flexibility in the use of their funds. In terms of the general operations at the Institute, we have felt the tightening of the budget just like other organizations across the country, and have had to deal with it by reducing travel, meetings, the immediate hiring of staff, and other expenditures. Most of these actions are being pursued in close choreography with other components of NIH.

In short, we are doing our best analyzing budgets and developing scenarios for different circumstances - and preparing for events that then do not happen. 'Fiscal constraint' (especially when final decisions are uncertain) is actually quite expensive with respect to the amount of time spent by the scientific leaders both within and outside the Institute in analyzing, debating, and executing sharply curtailed operating plans.

But what about the future? We are currently operating under a Continuing Resolution that extends through mid-January, but are also trying to accommodate the possibilities of another government shutdown if the federal budget issues cannot be resolved and/or additional sequester cuts that would lower our funding even further. Probably the only thing that we can be certain about is continued uncertainty regarding funding levels for the Institute, as well as the rest of NIH. As we did last year and in the days and weeks leading up to the eventual sequester, NHGRI will start the fiscal year conservatively, plan for multiple contingencies, and hope for the best possible resolution. While I may wish for different fiscal circumstances, I remain personally committed to continue fostering the most creative and innovative genomics research, while continually explaining its importance for human health to anyone who will listen.

The Genomics Landscape is a monthly email message that aims to disseminate information directly from the NHGRI Director to the broader genomics community and other interested recipients.  Each month, Dr. Green will endeavor to highlight two to four topics, typically featuring one in greater detail. To receive The Genomics Landscape beginning in January 2014, sign up via the following ListServ before December 31, 2013:
NHGRI Genomics Landscape ListservTo suggest topics for future messages, please send an e-mail to: NHGRILANDSCAPE@MAIL.NIH.GOV
More from The Genomics Landscape
  • Genome: Unlocking Life's Code
    The Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in Washington, D.C. is currently home to Genome: Unlocking Life's Code - a multimedia exhibition developed through a remarkable partnership between NHGRI and NMNH.  The exhibition opened in June 2013, and illustrates how the genomic revolution is influencing people's lives. It brought together two powerful scientific institutions to increase the public's awareness of genomics and its significance in the world. The exhibition will be at the NMNH until September 2014 and will travel around North America for 4-5 years.  For more information about the exhibition and related programming, visit unlockinglifescode.org.
     
  • HeLa and Genomic Data
    The National Institutes of Health recently announced that it has reached an understanding with the family of the late Henrietta Lacks to allow biomedical researchers controlled access to genomic data generated from the famous HeLa cell line.  The well-known history of this cell line (including the lack of informed consent from Henrietta Lacks, the widespread use of the cells, and the substantial publicity associated with the identity of the family) represents a unique situation that allows us to learn important lessons about research policy development.  NIH worked closely with the Lacks family to develop an innovative policy solution that meets the needs of the family while giving researchers appropriate access to this important genome data.  For further details, see www.nih.gov/about/director/statement-hela-08072013.htm.
     
  • Draft NIH Genomic Data Sharing Policy Released for Public Comment
    The NIH is seeking public comments about its new draft Genomic Data Sharing Policy that promotes broad sharing of large-scale human and non-human genomic data generated from NIH-supported research.  The draft policy is an update to the 2007 policy for sharing Genome-Wide Association Study data (commonly known as "the GWAS Policy"). I encourage you to review the draft policy and provide comments during the public comment period, which closes November 20.  In addition, there will be one or more public webinars to discuss the draft policy and to hear public feedback in the coming months. Please visit www.federalregister.gov/a/2013-22941 or gds.nih.gov for more information.
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Posted: November 14, 2013