AR-News: (U.S.) NIH Privatization Under Fire
hello_itz_me at hotmail.com
Wed Oct 22 18:59:46 EDT 2003
NIH PRIVATIZATION UNDER FIRE
Congressional democrats warn of outsourcing plan's effect on science,
security, and morale
The Scientist, Merrill Goozner, Oct. 22, 2003
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) plan to put thousands of scientific
support jobs up for bid by outside contractors drew fire this week from
In a letter sent to Joshua Bolten, director of the Office of Management and
Budget, and Tommy Thompson, secretary of Health and Human Services, Rep.
Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and the Maryland congressional delegation complained
that the outsourcing plan would put NIH at risk because it "meddles with
scientists, opens the door to unnecessary security threats, and seriously
undermines morale and productivity."
The NIH effort is part of the Bush administration's effort to privatize as
much government work as possible. Over the next few years, outsourcing could
affect as many as 4600 jobs on the sprawling 327-acre NIH campus in
Bethesda, Md., just outside the US capital.
Today (October 22), NIH will announce whether an outside firm or current
employees will provide real estate management services at several agency
sites. About 700 jobs are at stake, agency spokesman Don Robusky said. The
first competition for administering and staffing the agency's $18 billion
extramural grants program was won last month by the in-house team, but at a
cost of 40 jobs.
"It is our intention to be as competitive as possible and to win
competitions against the private sector in an open and fair process," NIH
Deputy Director of Management Charles E. Leasure, Jr., said. But "if we find
ways to increase efficiencies and improve our operations, we have an
obligation to do so."
In July, Leasure said that NIH planned to take bids over the coming year on
services ranging from the agency's highly specialized fire department to its
veterinary and lab equipment repair staffs. His original plan also called
for asking key scientific personnel to compete with outside contractors,
including NIH staffers drawn through the intramural research fellow program
and category 2 senior scientists. Those jobs are "inherently commercial,"
according to an internal committee report approved by NIH Director Elias A.
But a firestorm of protest at the agency has put the latter plans on hold,
according to the Waxman letter. "These two proposals would allow outside
contractors to select many of the key scientists on the NIH campus," the
legislators wrote. "NIH's future is jeopardized when political leaders fail
to respect the scientists and scientific processes needed to produce
breakthrough treatments and other medical advances."
An anonymous letter from an NIH senior scientist posted on Waxman's
Government Reform Committee Web site triggered the protests on Capitol Hill.
"The morale of my staff has never seemed lower," the scientist wrote.
Outsourcing "will not save money. This will decrease, not increase, work
efficiency." There are between 8 and 10 support personnel for every senior
research scientist at NIH.
At a joint SenateHouse hearing on the future of biomedical research held in
early October, former NIH Chief Harold Varmus expressed concerns that the
outside contracting process was sending a "wave of unnecessary anxiety and
bureaucratic duplication to the agency."
Harold Shapiro, president emeritus of Princeton University and chair of an
Institute of Medicine committee studying how to reorganize NIH's structure,
warned that forcing workers to competitively bid on their own jobs
threatened to "undermine some of the vitality of the organization."
"If they actually start doing this to a large number of people, it will have
a devastating effect," a senior scientist at the National Institute for
Allergy and Infectious Diseases told The Scientist this week on condition of
anonymity. "Everyone will start looking over their shoulders."
Signers of the Waxman letter included John Dingell, ranking minority member
on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Senators Barbara Mikulski and
Paul Sarbanes of Maryland, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who represents
Bethesda in Congress. There have been growing protests in the suburban
Maryland district over NIH plans to build a biohazard level 3 research
Privatizing the agency's 50-person in-house fire department will only fuel
those fears, according to Richard Laubach, president of the American
Federation of Government Employees Local 2419, which represents about 660
employees at NIH. "It's a hazmat unit that knows how to handle pathogens and
biological agents," he said. "Once we lose that expertise, how will we ever
Laubach also worries about the national security implications of turning
over maintenance of the new facility to outside contractors. "We will have
no idea who those people are," he said. "Anybody with half a mind to do so
could snag something and walk out."
Links for this article
H. Waxman et al., Letter to Joshua Bolten and Tommy Thompson, October 20,
C.E. Leasure, Jr., "Competitive sourcing reviews in fiscal year 2004," Memo
to all National Institutes of Health employees, July 9, 2003.
Anonymous, "I am the NIH... and I need your help," posted by Rep. Henry
Waxman (D-Cal.), ranking member, House Government Reform Committee.
Politics and Science
E. Russo, "Report recommends major changes in the NIH," The Scientist, July
P. Brickley, "Bioagents in the backyard," The Scientist, January 28, 2003.
Send instant messages to anyone on your contact list with MSN Messenger
6.0. Try it now FREE! http://msnmessenger-download.com
More information about the AR-News