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Fears of Slow Research Halt Federal Advisory Panel Bill

NIH concerns slammed the brakes on a bill May 15 seeking more transparency about people serving on federal advisory boards.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee agreed to postpone voting on the Federal Advisory Committee Act (H.R. 1608) to address any negative impact on medical research.

The National Institutes of Health said the legislation would slow down new discoveries by burying the grant selection process in paperwork. The NIH funds more than 50,000 competitive grants to more than 300,000 researchers at more than 2,500 universities, medical schools, and other research institutions.

“The chairman is right to postpone it to make sure we’re dealing with NIH’s concerns,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said during the markup.

At issue is a provision in the bill that requires anyone who’s a member of a federal advisory group to be classified as a special government employee, which would boost the criteria for participating in the peer review process.

Peer Review Thwarted

The proposed change caused protest in the research community. It would place a choke hold on peer review, the NIH’s process for selecting which grant applications to fund, Research!America and Friends of Cancer Research wrote in a May 14 letter to committee leaders. Peer review relies in part on experts within each scientific field appearing at one-day meetings and assessing applications.

The NIH peer review system uses about 30,000 to 35,000 peer reviewers annually, according to an April letter from the HHS. Changing participation requirements would increase the administrative burden by 30 to 35-fold, the HHS said. Each special government employee must complete and notarize 13 forms totaling 94 pages.

“Increasing transparency and accountability across government is a laudable goal, but burying NIH peer review under reams of additional paper would be a tragic mistake,” Ellie Dehoney, Research!America’s vice president of policy and advocacy, said.


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