Government Relations Update
Science Continues to Monitor New NIH Oversight Board
By Geoff Mumford
Last spring the National Institutes of Health (NIH) held the first meeting of its Scientific Management Review Board (SMRB), which was established to provide greater oversight of the organizational structure and resource allocation across the twenty seven Institutes and Centers within NIH. At that meeting, the Board decided to take up three tasks and assigned them to individual Working Groups:
The Deliberating Organizational Change (DOC) Working Group will decide what metrics to use when considering changes in the organizational structure of NIH and how to measure whether those changes had the desired effect.
The Clinical Center Intramural Research Program (CCIRP) Working Group will examine whether there are efficiencies to be gained by consolidating the Clinical Center and the various intramural research programs housed on the main NIH campus in Bethesda, MD.
The Substance Use, Abuse and Addiction (SUAA) Working Group will determine what organizational change, if any, could further optimize substance use, abuse, and addiction research at NIH.
One likely scenario the SUAA Working Group will be discussing is the possible merger of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). There has been concern within the academic community that consolidating the institutes might lead to a net loss of research funding or diminish the profile of alcohol use disorders as a public health problem. NIDA funds more behavioral and social science research than any other NIH Institute and, though smaller, NIAAA devotes nearly half its budget to the same research areas.
All the Working Groups have been meeting by conference call over the summer but the first public forums of the SUAA and DOC Working Groups are scheduled for September 23 and 24, respectively, and the next meeting of the full SMRB is scheduled for November 12-13. The rosters of the Working Groups have been published online.
On August 26th, Steve Breckler, APA's Executive Director for Science sent a letter to the SMRB Chair requesting that the appropriate Working Groups consider several issues as they move forward. Those issues included the distribution of tobacco/nicotine research across NIH, the integration of research that deals with comorbid mental health conditions, and where research on other compulsive use disorders should be housed within NIH. The letter can be viewed here.
The Science Directorate will continue to monitor the SMRB activities closely and although a timeline for the decision-making process has not been published, it is expected that the SUAA Working Group will make a final recommendation regarding the possible NIAAA and NIDA merger to the full SMRB in the spring/summer of 2010. For additional background, please see the SMRB web site.