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The Department of Health and Human Services isn’t yet using a program designed to pay more to top science hires

by Andrea Widener
May 16, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 19


The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) isn’t yet taking advantage of a law that would allow it to pay more to top scientists and engineers, according to a May 8 letter to congressional leaders from the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s watchdog arm. Agencies within the department, which include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, and National Institutes of Health, have long said that hiring top scientists is difficult because they cannot compete with private sector salaries. The 21st Century Cures Act, signed into law in December 2016, expanded authority for HHS to hire some scientists at a higher pay grade. The expanded program would allow HHS agencies to hire 2,000 scientists, up from 500 under the previous program, with salaries as high as the US president’s, currently $400,000. PhD scientists, as well as master’s level engineers, bioinformatics specialists, and others in emerging fields, are eligible. HHS issued regulations to allow agencies to start the expanded hiring on April 20, 2020.


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