Senators say NIH ethics policies are now too stringent

After criticizing the NIH's old ethics policies for being too lax, senators now say the revamped rules go too far and are driving talented scientists out of government research.

During a hearing Wednesday, Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and ranking member Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said some tweaking is needed for the newly tightened rules aimed at preventing conflicts of interest.

"They are too onerous, and they must be redone, soon before you lose more people," Harkin told NIH Director Elias Zerhouni. "I think we've gone overboard."

Specter added that the committee will recommend ways to loosen the rules.

The senators' complaints centered on new rules governing when NIH employees must divest stocks. Under the rules, top NIH employees cannot buy stock in pharmaceutical or biotechnology companies, and current stockholders must sell their shares.

Last year, Specter threatened to get Congress to intervene if the NIH did not overhaul its ethics rules in response to allegations of improper relationships between government scientists and biomedical companies. But now the senators say they fear the new rules, which were announced in February, are prompting scientists to leave the agency and might harm recruitment.

Several high-profile scientists have said they plan to either leave NIH or not join it because they would have to divest long-held investments. Zerhouni said he has requested that the stock-divestiture portion be delayed while HHS reviews it. "We will be adjusting accordingly," he said.

During the hearing, the senators also decried proposed cuts in the NIH budget in the House and Senate fiscal 2006 budget resolutions. Specter and Harkin successfully amended the Senate version to restore about $1.5 billion to NIH, but Specter acknowledged that retaining that funding would be difficult.

"It will be a battle to keep that extra $1.5 billion in the budget," he said. Zerhouni said NIH would have to cut about 400 grants if the additional funding does not survive a House-- Senate conference.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.