NIH Director Testifies at NIH Reauthorization Hearing
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing titled "Legislation to Reauthorize the National Institutes of Health" on July 19. Twenty-six members participated in all or part of the hearing. NIH Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni was the only witness testifying before the committee. The purpose of the hearing was to discuss draft legislation that would reauthorize the NIH.
The draft legislation, distributed shortly before the hearing, contains provisions that would categorize existing Institutes and Centers (ICs) into two categories: mission-specific Institutes and science-enabling ICs. Additionally, the draft legislation delineates new authorities for the NIH director; establishes an electronic coding system and four specific authorizations of appropriations for the NIH Director; requires a biennial report to Congress; authorizes grants for demonstration projects for research at the interface between biological and physical sciences; and will eliminate not only more than 50 existing authorizations of appropriations, including 4 for NCI, but also many mandated reports across NIH.
The committee noted that it has been 13 years since the last reauthorization of NIH and, during that time, the committee had ceded their jurisdiction to the appropriators. Members expressed hope that the legislation would increase transparency and accountability at NIH. Several members cautioned that adequate time had not been provided to study the bill, suggested that the committee should not move too quickly, and stated that they would need time to hear concerns from other interested parties.
Dr. Zerhouni pointed out in his opening statement that the draft bill was closely aligned with the recommendations in the 2003 Institute of Medicine (IOM) Report titled "Enhancing the Vitality of the National Institutes of Health: Organizational Change to Meet New Challenges" and outlined several areas of the draft with which he agreed. In discussing medical advances, Dr. Zerhouni stated that people "can survive cancer today…you can live with cancer as a chronic disease." Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) asked Dr. Zerhouni whether he envisioned NCI retaining the ability to submit a professional judgment budget directly to the President and to Congress. Dr. Zerhouni responded that this authority "should be preserved, provided that [NCI] also participates in the common fund and the common good."
Congress adjourned for the August recess without introducing a bill. It is anticipated that the committee will have a new draft of the bill when Congress returns in September.
The IOM Report can be found at http://www.nap.edu/books/0309089670/html. Dr. Zerhouni's testimony can be found at http://olpa.od.nih.gov/hearings/109/session1/testimonies/reauthorization.asp.