NIH needs $1.3 billion for building repairs, report says

While more funding goes to research, aging facilities found in ‘deteriorating condition’

The James Shannon Building in Bethesda, Md., was completed in 1938. A congressionally mandated report noted that more than 72 percent of NIH facilities are more than 20 years old. (Lydia Polimeni/NIH file photo)

The National Institutes of Health needs a “substantial infusion of funding” to address the “deteriorating condition” of many of its facilities, according to a congressionally mandated report.

The report, released Monday by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, recommends that Congress provide $1.3 billion in new funding over several years in order to address buildings and facilities at the NIH’s campus in Bethesda, Maryland.

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Finding an extra billion or two for the research agency has been a bipartisan congressional prerogative in the last few appropriations cycles. The NIH’s budget for fiscal 2019 is $39.1 billion, after three consecutive years with $2 billion increases.

House Democrats are proposing another $2 billion increase for fiscal 2020. And though the Senate might have a smaller pool of funding to start with when it drafts its fiscal 2020 Labor-HHS-Education spending bill, the NIH is usually a safe bet to receive an increase.

However, those increases have mostly been targeted for medical research itself — in areas like cancer and Alzheimer’s disease — while money allocated for buildings and facilities has been inconsistent.

As a result, the committee of experts that investigated the needs of the NIH campus suggests the state of the facilities could undermine the research Congress is trying to promote. The report described problems such as plumbing failures that resulted in flooded laboratories and operating rooms.

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Congress provided $200 million for buildings and facilities in fiscal 2019, and the House-passed fiscal 2020 bill would also provide $200 million.

Although the NIH received more than $600 million for facilities in 2002 and 2009, and in 2016 it received nearly $300 million, in most years since 2004 it has gotten around $100 million, according to the academies.

“This level of spending has not been sufficient to address the overall campus needs,” the report said. The academies found that 72 percent of NIH facilities are more than 20 years old.

The $1.3 billion they suggest Congress provide would help address the NIH’s “backlog” of maintenance and repair, which includes upgrading power and water systems, roof repairs, roads, parking and security infrastructure.

The committee said the $1.3 billion could be allocated in two tranches. The first sum should be around $700 million, made available “as soon as possible” to replace and improve infrastructure in current facilities.

The remaining $600 million would be to further assess facilities in the context of an updated campus master plan, the report said.

Going forward, the committee suggested Congress provide an annual dedicated amount that can go toward reducing or eliminating the maintenance and repair backlog.

The report also recommended the NIH revise how it determines which construction projects should be prioritized and better integrate its strategic research plans with its facility management plan.

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