Sebelius Responds to Questions About NCATS

Work by Nature has uncovered a letter written by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius about the creation of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences at the National Institutes of Health. The letter, dated July 6, 2011, comes as a response to poignant questions from, Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., who back in June wrote a scathing letter to Sebelius, demanding information about the new center and pointing out his concerns with the failure of NIH to provide any specific budgetary details to Congress. Rehberg chairs the House of Representatives Appropriations subcommittee that provides funding to NIH.

In her letter, Sebelius provides a lengthy response to Rehberg, reaffirming her desire to “establish NCATS as soon as feasible in FY 2012.” Included is a budget request for NCATS of $721.6 million for FY12, which includes $100 million for the authorized Cures Acceleration Network. The letter goes on to insist that the creation of NCATS would be “budget neutral,” merely transferring funds from other institutes (primarily the National Center for Research Resources, which would be eliminated).

Sebelius also defended the agency’s recent actions regarding NCATS, which several members of Congress and the scientific community have interpreted as rash and arrogant, as “preliminary planning in the interest of being able to implement efficient changes related to NCATS.” In that vein, she promised not to hire a Director “until NCATS is established.”

It is unclear whether Rehberg will be satiated by this response, or if his subcommittee will be able to incorporate the NCATS budget request into the overall FY12 budget, which was scheduled to be marked-up today before being postponed indefinitely. NIH leaders are developing a strategy that would allow NCATS to be funded should Congress be forced to rely on a Continuing Resolution to fund the government if appropriations bills are not finalized by the start of FY12 on October 1.

ASBMB Public Affairs staff will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates.

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