The back and forth over the proposed reorganization of the National Institutes of Health has heated up over the past few weeks. Following the Dec. 7 announcement from the Scientific Management Review Board recommending the creation of the National Center for Advancing Translational Science and corresponding destruction of the National Center for Research Resources, stakeholders have offered their opinions, both publicly and privately, but received little to no response from NIH leadership. After Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius officially notified Congress of the agency’s plan on Jan. 14, NIH Director Francis Collins finally broke his silence and gave a series of interviews on the topic. Collins was directly quoted by the New York Times in an article that implied the NIH was attempting to form a pseudo-pharmaceutical company. This characterization drew an unexpected response from the NIH, who posted a series of rebuttals of the article and its implications on the feedback.nih.gov website.
However, the debate did not end there. On Jan.19, John Bartrum, former NIH budget director and currently a staffer on the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, sent Collins and Sebelius a letter asking several poignant questions about the process. Several of these questions, which ranged from budgetary issues to justification of the criteria used to eliminate NCRR, echoed concerns voiced by stakeholders. A meeting between Bartrum and NIH leadership, including NCRR Director Barbara Alving and NCRR Task Force Chair Lawrence Tabak, is scheduled for this Friday, Feb. 4.
Congress is not the only body speaking up. Last week, advisory councils for both NCRR and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences vocalized their opposition to the plan. The NIGMS council went so far as to agree to write a letter to Dr. Collins, formally indicating their displeasure with the reorganization. NIGMS is the proposed destination for several NCRR programs, including several of the instrumentation programs, and its director, Dr. Jeremy Berg, has indicated his reluctance to accept a change in his institute’s structure.
Howard Garrison, Director of Public Affairs for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, has volunteered to draft the letter from the NIGMS council. ASBMB will work closely with Dr. Garrison to ensure that the letter presents our membership’s concerns. Stay tuned to the Policy Blotter for the latest updates on the situation!