By Ananda Shorey
WASHINGTON – The National Institutes of Health would receive $1.2 billion over five years to develop technology for biomedical and behavioral research under a bill passed by the House this week.
The money was part of a $6.9 billion appropriation passed Tuesday that would boost the federal government’s funding of basic research on information technology in fiscal years 2000 through 2004.
The bill, known as the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Act of 1999, must still go through the Senate. But House supporters of the measure said that they are confident it will pass in the other chamber.
“I think this committee has set a mark that this type of funding is important,” said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and chairman of the House Committee on Science. “There is overwhelming support that this is something that is really necessary to pursue our prosperity.”
Rep. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda, said in a prepared statement that the NIH portion of the bill would allocate “vital information technology resources needed to map out the human genome, battle cancer … assist with telemedicine and advance computational medicine,” among other efforts.
Morella, chairwoman of the House Science Subcommittee on Technology, cosponsored the overall bill and introduced the amendment to include $1.2 billion for NIH.
She said information technology funding is critical, because it is the advances in that field that have driven America’s economy to new heights. Morella said the bill passed Tuesday “will allow the United States to maintain its position of global leadership in information technology.”
Officials at NIH said they were pleased with the news, but not overwhelmed: The $223 million to $250 million a year it would receive under the bill is only a fraction of its total budget, which is set at $17.9 billion this year.
“Everything is on track,” said an NIH spokesman, adding that the $1.2 billion in the bill is the full amount the agency asked for from Congress.
Sensenbrenner said he was delighted to see that the federal government has finally realized the importance of funding basic information technology research.