Issue Date: January 12, 2004
NIH RESPONDS TO HILL PROBE
In response to allegations of conflicts of interest by NIH employees, NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni has sent a letter to House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman W. J. (Billy) Tauzin (R-La.) requesting a meeting to discuss Zerhouni's plan to remove any real or perceived conflicts.
Zerhouni's letter came less than a month after the committee requested a series of NIH records and related materials and just days before the Jan. 8 deadline for this information (C&EN, Dec. 15, 2003, page 10).
Zerhouni noted in his letter that he has already initiated several measures to address the committee's concerns. First, he has begun to collect details of situations where NIH staff received compensation from outside sources since Jan. 1, 1999. He has also implemented an Ethics Advisory Committee to oversee compensation from outside sources across NIH and to advise ethics officials and employees on conflicts of interest.
A special blue ribbon panel also has been set up to review ethical policies and practices at NIH. According to Zerhouni, the panel is expected to "propose recommendations for improving such policies and practices within 90 days." Finally, he says a review has been ordered to study the financial disclosure requirements for NIH.
"I believe that the public's interest is best served by complete transparency, full disclosure, independent review, and proactive management and monitoring of all outside relationships," Zerhouni wrote in the letter. "It is my goal, through the steps outlined [in this letter], to erase any doubts in the minds of Congress or the public that we remain worthy of the trust and confidence you have placed in us."
The House is not expected to take any action or schedule any hearings on this matter until after it reconvenes on Jan. 20. The Senate Appropriations Committee, however, has scheduled a hearing for Jan. 22.
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