Photonics-based bio research awaits federal budget news

What does the upheaval mean for biomedical researchers using optical techniques, and for the instrumentation and photonics industries supporting them?

Susan Reiss 720

The Trump era has taken hold and is shaking up the Washington establishment. What does the upheaval mean for biomedical researchers using optical techniques, and for the instrumentation and photonics industries supporting them? Sometime in mid-March, we'll get a clearer picture when the Administration drops its "budget lite"—an outline of the full budget. In the meantime, we can take heart that unsteady times can provide opportunities and that with committee assignments now set, the appropriations and oversight subcommittees include some old friends of science.

In the House, Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Dan Lipinski (D-IL) are two proponents of biomedical research. Johnson is the ranking member on the full House Science Committee and was a key voice for the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (AICA) passed in December 2016. Lipinski is the ranking member on the House Subcommittee on Research and Technology, which oversees the National Science Foundation (NSF) and was active in passage of the 21st Century Cures Act. Another supporter, Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), serves on the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, which oversees the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

In the Senate, Roy Blunt (R-MO), chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, has backed the NIH in the past, as has fellow subcommittee member Lamar Alexander (R-TN). Alexander also sits on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, which oversees NSF. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who are also members of the Senate Appropriations Committee (Graham is on the NSF oversight subcommittee and Durbin is on the DARPA oversight subcommittee), founded the Senate NIH Caucus in 2015 to increase awareness among their colleagues of the importance of biomedical research.

No doubt these folks face significant challenge as Congress sorts out its budget responsibilities. Maintaining or expanding funding for NIH, NSF, and other agencies will likely require hard negotiations—and there's a time crunch. In the coming weeks, Congress will work to pass the FY2017 budget before the current continuing resolution expires April 28th. It will also begin grappling with the Administration's FY2018 budget, and continue confirmation hearings for Supreme Court and agency nominees. Hill watchers predict Congress will author another continuing resolution to keep the feds operating through September 30th (the end of the fiscal year), and thus provide some breathing room to assess budget choices.

While there was much to celebrate when Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act and the AICA, what transpires in the coming months will determine how effectively those laws can help produce research to advance personalized medicine, the BRAIN Initiative, and the Cancer Moonshot. In the meantime, it's curious to reflect that the Administration's trajectory mimics the path of disruptive technologies: gaining a grassroots foothold from which to drive ahead and displace established competitors.

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