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Congress Approves Increases for NIH but Fails to Protect Peer Review

This grant was an exploratory research grant on identity and self-expression by psychologist Samuel Gosling at the University of Texas, Austin.

By Karen Studwell

On Wednesday, September 9th, the House passed its version of the FY 2005 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations bill (L-HHS), providing a $727 million increase to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and raising its budget to $28.5 billion. Unfortunately, the bill also provided a vehicle for members of Congress to attack two individual research grants funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) that were seen as frivolous by some Representatives. According to the amendment sponsor Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), "…Grants to questionable studies like dorm room wall decorations cloud many of the good things that the National Institute of Mental Health does and can do…"

This grant was actually an exploratory research grant on identity and self-expression by psychologist Samuel Gosling at the University of Texas, Austin. The other grant had been made to psychologist Laura King at the University of Missouri, Columbia. King was awarded the 2001 APA Templeton Positive Psychology Prize for her research that focuses on the health benefits of writing about positive life goals. Funding for both grants was completed and neither was due to receive funds in FY05. This fact may have protected them from real harm, as they won't lose any federal research dollars because of this amendment.

However, this fact also gave House members an excuse not to oppose the amendment. Chairman Ralph Regula (R-OH), who so passionately spoke in support of sexual health research and peer review last year during the debate on a similar amendment, declined to oppose this amendment, stating, "I am not going to oppose this in a vote because the grants are over. They have been completed. The amendment does not have any impact, in essence…"

Whether this amendment has any impact is debatable, as attacks on meritorious research for political purposes may send a chilling effect throughout the scientific community. Some members did speak out against the amendment, including Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R-MO) who submitted King's c.v. for the Congressional Record and stated that, "I know that is certainly great fodder for an election-year press release, but I would say to the gentleman that the grant itself does have substance."

APA and the Coalition to Protect Research alerted scientists and congressional staff on Tuesday, September 7th to this possible amendment and we thank all those who contacted their Members in Congress to oppose the amendment. As the amendment was passed on a voice vote, when only those few members who were on the floor could vote, there is no record of individual votes. Given the months of education that CPR and others in the community have done to increase support for peer review, advocates were disappointed that a recorded vote was not requested.

The issue is not settled yet, however. The amendment language will still have to survive a conference with the Senate version of the bill and APA and other scientific organizations will be working to ensure that the language is stripped from the final FY05 L-HHS appropriations bills. To learn more about the Neugebauer amendments and more about this issue, visit the APA Science Policy website.