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Tripathi and Johnson urge resistance to federal cap on research costs

Facilities and Administrative costs pay for equipment and space to conduct the research, utility costs for the research buildings and labs, adequate staff and safety protocols. Photo: Douglas Levere

By JOHN DELLACONTRADA

Published June 1, 2017

“We cannot afford to turn back the clock with cuts to this critical funding for research that is and has been leading to transformative innovation in clinical care.”
President Satish K. Tripathi

Citing the significant harm that would be imposed on their institutions and on the nation’s research endeavors, UB President Satish K. Tripathi and Candace Johnson, president and CEO of Roswell Park Cancer Institute, today strongly urged members of the Western New York congressional delegation to resist a Trump administration budget proposal to cap federal spending on costs essential to conducting research.

In a joint letter to Sens. Charles Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand and Reps. Brian Higgin and Chris Collins, Tripathi and Johnson said capping federal spending on Facilities and Administrative (F&A) costs is “not only detrimental and debilitating to future research but also shuts off the lights in the labs we have now and ends clinical trials on lifesaving drugs for millions of people.”

The Trump administration’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2018 seeks to cap spending on the F&A costs by 10 percent.  Universities and research institutes like UB and RPCI rely on this funding to invest in opening new labs, purchase new equipment and maintain existing research facilities, the letter stated.

Implementing a cap on research costs would, in effect, amount to a cut to vital research underway at their institutions, Johnson and Tripathi wrote.

“Our success in developing a number of lifesaving drugs, medical devices and therapies is a testament to the fact that these costs are a truly important investment that the federal government has seen a return on many times over.

“RPCI and UB strongly urge you to resist any attempt to cap F&A costs.”

F&A costs are sometimes referred to as “indirect costs,” the letter noted, “but in truth they are anything but that. These federal dollars help support and maintain the vital research infrastructure that individual institutions build.”

The letter noted the Trump administration is justifying the proposed budget cap by claiming it wants more resources to go directly to researchers. Tripathi and Johnson write that while providing more funding for researchers is a laudable goal, “and one that we support,” capping F&A costs is damaging to the pursuit of research.

“(F&A) costs do support the researchers directly,” the letter stated, “by paying for equipment and space to conduct the research, adequate staff and safety protocols to protect researchers and patients.” The funding also pays utility costs that support RCPI and UB research buildings and labs, and supports research staff whom the institutions’ investigators rely on as they conduct clinical trials, Johnson and Tripathi wrote.

Even imposing what may be considered a generous cap on F&A costs ignores the fact that every research institution is different, “conducting a diverse array of research, subject to different geographical costs, with different safety protocols and under different mandates,” Johnson and Tripathi wrote.

“Therefore,” the letter recommended, “each institution should continue to have the freedom to negotiate its own F&A cost rate with the applicable federal agency.

“Anything else would be arbitrary and eventually cause irreparable harm to our nation’s global leadership role in scientific inquiry and research.”

Johnson and Tripathi thanked the members of the Western New York delegation for their attention to this issue.

“Conducting medical research requires more than the talent of the people leading the work,” Johnson said. “The infrastructure, equipment and other materials that are included in the so-called indirect costs are absolutely necessary to scientific progress.

“Cuts to this vital funding will cripple lifesaving research and innovation. We hope policymakers will understand the devastating nationwide impact on medical research and ultimately patient care that could result from this proposed cap.”

Added Tripathi: “Our delegation understands that through this research, we are improving the lives of members of our local, regional and state-wide communities. And at the same time, this research and discovery are enhancing the economic well-being of Western New Yorkers. We cannot afford to turn back the clock with cuts to this critical funding for research that is and has been leading to transformative innovation in clinical care.”