Draft Report Calls for Changes to NIH Conflict of Interest Policies
A draft report by NIH Blue Ribbon Committee on Conflict of Interest Policies recommends that the agency reverse several policies on conflict-of-interest standards implemented by the agency in 1995, including policies that allow NIH scientists to spend unlimited time consulting for outside employers with no ceiling on income, the Los Angeles Times reports. The report, a copy of which was obtained by the Times, also recommended that NIH publicly disclose all drug company payments to its scientists, limit paid consulting to 500 hours a year, bar employees from accepting stock or stock options from the pharmaceutical industry and apply "special scrutiny" to cases in which agency employees' outside compensation exceeds 50% of their annual NIH salary (Willman, Los Angeles Times, 4/9). In December, the Times found evidence of hundreds of consulting payments -- often hidden from the public -- to a number of NIH officials. In January, NIH Director Elias Zerhouni told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education that he was forming the panel, which is chaired by two scientists from the public and private sectors, to investigate allegations of conflicts of interest among NIH employees who received consulting payments and stock options from pharmaceutical companies. At a hearing held by the committee in March, attorneys from the Office of Government Ethics announced new disclosure requirements, under which many director-level NIH scientists will have to publicly disclose income received from outside sources. The disclosure requirements, effective as of Feb. 6, affect 66 senior NIH officials. Edgar Swindell, HHS associate general counsel, also announced last month that the HHS Office of Inspector General has begun an examination of conflict-of-interest policies at NIH (California Healthline, 3/25). According to the Times, a final copy of the report will be presented to Zerhouni in early May (Los Angeles Times, 4/9).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.