NIH transition – trying to provide clarity ?>

NIH transition – trying to provide clarity

Today has been an interesting day, and it is best explained chronologically.

This morning, ASBMB public affairs staff learned that an email went out today to senior National Institutes of Health officials apparently instituting new, though temporary, procedures for correspondence with public officials.  The email states that all correspondence must be approved by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The e-mail reads:


 For your additional awareness, please note that we have been directed not to send any correspondence to public officials (to include Members of Congress and state and local officials) between now and February 3, unless specifically authorized by the Department. If you or your staff have any questions about whether a letter should go forward, please contact me or NIH Exec Sec. 

 Thanks and best wishes,

Larry Tabak”

We spoke with current and former NIH officials, who confirmed the authenticity of the email.  One former official indicated that instituting these temporary new procedures seems an unusual step, even during a presidential transition period.

We reached out to the NIH directly for comment to better understand how the new temporary procedures outlined in the email differ from existing NIH policy regarding communications with public officials and received the following response:

NIH issued an email to the NIH Institute and Center directors providing guidance from HHS on new or pending regulation, policy or guidance.  The HHS guidance instructs HHS Operating Divisions to hold on publishing new rules or guidance in the Federal Register or other public forums and discussing them with public officials until the Administration has had an opportunity to review them. 

Please direct any additional questions to the White House.”

As you can see, that statement is far more specific than the one we were originally looking into this morning.

To be clear, we do not know how different these new temporary procedures are from existing ones. (We did ask the NIH to explain the differences, but, as you can see, the NIH didn’t.).  Nor do we yet have information about how the decision was made to implement the temporary procedures.  We do not know, for example, if the directive came from the Trump administration or from within the Department of Health and Human Services.  And we, frankly, do not know if this is the beginning of a new phase of more restricted communications, or if everything will go back to normal – whatever that means – after Feb. 3.

We do know, however, that any effort to stop a scientific agency from responding to congressional, federal, state and local inquiries has a chilling effect.  As we told the Huffington Post, peer-reviewed science should remain free of politicization, and we support the NIH and all federally funded scientific agencies in their efforts to continue on their missions without political interference.

5 thoughts on “NIH transition – trying to provide clarity

  1. Deeply, deeply disturbing. Accompanied by his actions on the EPA and USDA today, thos clearly indicates the Cheetoh-in-chief wants to wage war on science.

    Bring it on, I say! He will have to pry my HPLC from my cold dead fingers.

    Step 1 – reminding every politician in red states how much science contributes to their economy (many of these are COBRE eligible).

  2. Recent events (within the first several days of the new administration) have smacked of censorship of Federal agencies and the freedom of employees within them to publish or report facts as they are revealed from their studies or research funded by them. Censorship of information, excepting national security matters, from any of our governmental agencies is not commensurate with the U.S. Constitution. Very little of the information funded by or conducted within the National Institutes of Health can be considered to be vital to our national security. We understand that Federal employees are forbidden to “lobby” members of Congress. However, it would seem prudent to define more clearly just what information is included in “new rules or guidance”. There seems to be a fear of factual information implicit here. Instead, we have now been introduced to a new term, “alternative facts”.

  3. Guess if a doc gets elected as dog catcher in his local town and tries to get info from NIH S/he is out of luck since that makes him or her a local official….


  4. I already got my ID badge and temporary offer letter before Christmas. Also on Jan. 19th, I got my firm offer letter ready and i was about to start from Feb, 6th. But the HR put it on hold because HHS told the HR not to send out any firm offer letter. And now according to the Presidential Memo, whoever gets the firm letter before JAn 22nd, noon are good to go! And unfortunately, HR did not send me even though it was ready. I have already told to my current job about the new job because HR told me to do so. But luckily I just gave the verbal notice. So, what you think what are the chances for me to get into the NIH now?

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