Salaries, Conflict-of-Interest Policies Examined at NIH
The Washington Post on Thursday examined the salaries of the director of NIH and the heads of 27 agency centers amid questions about whether NIH should allow employees to receive "far more than would be possible under the General Schedule payroll system -- and at the same time disclose less than others about outside income and possible conflicts of interest" (Weiss, Washington Post, 3/25). In December, the Los Angeles 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 a new NIH committee chaired by two scientists from the public and private sectors would 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 earlier this month, 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 earlier this month that the HHS Office of Inspector General has begun an examination of conflict-of-interest policies at NIH (California Healthline, 3/2).
According to information obtained by the Post through the Freedom of Information Act and NIH sources, annual salaries for the NIH director and center heads range from $142,500 to $293,750 -- about the range of salaries for departmental undersecretaries, members of Congress, Supreme Court justices and the vice president. However, compared with private-sector professors, laboratory heads and department chairs with medical degrees in the Northeast, NIH officials "barely earn average regional salaries for their field," according to the Post. Private-sector researchers in the basic sciences have average salaries of $194,000, and those in the clinical sciences have average salaries of $253,000; NIH officials have average salaries of $198,000, the Post reports. NIH spokesperson John Burklow said, "NIH needs to remain reasonably competitive to continue to attract and retain the best and the brightest" to allow the agency to "lead our nation's fight against the most threatening diseases, such as AIDS, SARS, cancer and heart disease." He added, "For the opportunity to lead this fight, NIH directors accept much lower compensation compared to their counterparts in academia and the private sector" (Washington Post, 3/25).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.