On October 21-22, SFRBM leadership held 12 meetings on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. to introduce key Congressional offices to the society and discuss important issues impacting members, including increased NIH funding, diversity and public engagement in science.
SFRBM met with senior staff of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP), which has jurisdiction over most of the agencies, institutes, and programs of the Department of Health and Human Services - including the NIH. SFRBM also met directly with Senator Chuck Grassley, Senator Joni Ernst and Congressman Dave Loebsack to name a few. One goal of these meetings was to build relationships between key Congressional offices and SFRBM. While SFRBM is a member of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), which does an amazing job raising awareness of legislation impacting the scientific community, they do not promote or raise awareness about SFRBM specifically.
SFRBM leaders and staff who participated included Neil Hogg, Rick Domann, Sruti Shiva, Eric Kelley, Kent Lindeman and Brent Carney, the society's communications and public affairs partner.
In talking to members of Congress about ways to increase NIH research funding, there was pledged support for this initiative, however no real solutions laid out for how to fund it. Congressman James Sensenbrenner's office indicated they would not vote in favor of any NIH bill that did not clearly identify the funding source. Senator Robert Casey's office observed that the pharmaceutical industry, who often benefits greatly from the bench science resulting from NIH funding, doesn't seem to be strongly pushing for increased funding when they are speaking with legislators.
After meeting with the Senate HELP Committee, we came away with guarded optimism. The Committee is currently working on an "Innovation Bill" that will be the Senate companion to the 21st Century Cures Act which passed the House earlier this year. This bill will focus on three sectors, NIH research, FDA research and Health IT. While the bill is set to be introduced in the next couple weeks, making our visit extremely timely, it is unclear if it will contain increased funding for the NIH. Senator Patty Murray, in her role as Committee Ranking Member, indicated to us that such funding is a "must have" in the legislation.
Overall, we were thrilled with the reception SFRBM received and the opportunity this gives us in the coming years. Given the timing of the legislation in the HELP Committee and the FY2016 budget, our visit couldn't have come at a more pivotal time. As one of the benefits you receive as a SFRBM member, we feel this representation in Washington was extremely beneficial for our organization, our members and the issues so many of us hold dear. We look forward to continuing to build the relationships that were started in DC last week, to the benefit SFRBM members in the future.
Neil Hogg, Ph.D.
Medical College of Wisconsin