NIH Director Elias Zerhouni Discusses Congressional Effort To Reauthorize Agency at House Hearing
NIH Director Elias Zerhouni during a House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee hearing on Thursday discussed a congressional effort to reauthorize the agency, the Washington Post reports.
Reauthorization would allow lawmakers to "make structural and administrative changes beyond those they make indirectly through the budgeting process," according to the Post. Congress last reauthorized NIH in 1993 (Weiss, Washington Post, 3/18).
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Joe Barton (R-Texas) said he plans to introduce legislation "within the next few months" to streamline NIH's "topsy-turvy" management. Barton said the agency's growth from seven institutes in 1960 to 27 in 2005 has led to "largely independent" entities that do not work together efficiently (CQ HealthBeat , 3/17).
Currently, NIH has more than 60 separate research programs, which congressional appropriators fund through 26 separate line items. Barton suggested that Congress consider "budget clusters" within the agency and said NIH should adopt a "new, more transparent reporting system" on its research (Rovner, CongressDaily, 3/17).
Zerhouni agreed that NIH could be run more efficiently and noted the recent creation of the NIH Office of Portfolio Analysis and Strategic Initiatives, which will be charged with coordinating interrelated research efforts within the agency. "What we have is a hand with 27 strong fingers, but I'm not sure the palm is strong enough to coordinate all that," Zerhouni said.
Some observers said the congressional reauthorization effort "could be successful this term," although "political differences among lawmakers could fatally stall the process, especially if the reauthorization turns into an effort to codify restrictions on embryonic stem cell research or delves into other areas of bioethical controversy," the Post reports (Washington Post, 3/18).
In related news, the Senate on Thursday voted 63-37 in favor of a budget amendment that would add $1.5 billion in NIH funding to the FY 2006 budget resolution.
The American Cancer Society said the amendment "renews the commitment of a bipartisan majority in the Senate to ensuring that we continue to progress in biomedical research" (CQ HealthBeat , 3/17).