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Policy

NIH still faces ethics questions

September 18, 2006 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 84, ISSUE 38

NIH must increase the enforcement of its ethics policy, according to the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations. This call for stronger enforcement came at the latest in a series of committee hearings investigating conflict-of-interest problems at the agency. The focus of this hearing was on why two scientists found to have committed serious violations of NIH's ethics rules were still working at the agency. Although NIH officials decided last year that the two should be fired, the officials lacked the authority to fire them because both scientists are members of the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. The public health corps' hearings into whether the two scientists should be terminated have been indefinitely put on hold at the request of the Department of Justice, which is doing its own criminal investigation of one of the men. In the meantime, both scientists continued to work at the agency, something the subcommittee members find unacceptable. Calling for action, the members told the public health corps to stop "sitting on its hands" waiting for DOJ and move on its hearings. Members also raised doubts about whether NIH's new ethics policies, finalized a year ago to avoid future conflicts of interest, would be effective. NIH Deputy Director Raynard S. Kington tried to assure the members that the agency had changed. "This has been a painful process for us, but we believe we are a better agency," he said.

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