T H E   N I H   C A T A L Y S T     J U L Y  –   A U G U S T   2000

G U E S T E D I T O R I A L: F R O M T H E D I R E C T O R 0 F H U M A N R E S O U R C E S  



Because "Title 42" is becoming something of a household word around NIH—and many of our recent senior recruits have arrived under the Title 42 umbrella—it seems fitting to elaborate on some of its features and new uses.

Generally, Title 42 (the shorthand we use to cite a personnel authority under the Public Health Service Act, which appears in Title 42 of the U.S. Code) is a measure that has enhanced NIH’s ability to bring scientists into the intramural research program (IRP) and to advance those already here. It now gives NIH greater flexibility to appoint and pay senior scientists and has simplified the personnel process. The authority was first put into law more than 30 years ago and may also be applied to visiting intramural scientists and some extramural staff, but those uses will not be addressed in this column. A recent interpretation by the HHS General Counsel’s Office now lets us use this legal authority to appoint and pay scientists at all levels, including our senior ranks.

What does Title 42 authority mean for the IRP and why is it beneficial?

NIH can now use the authority for scientists appointed as staff scientists and clinicians, for tenure-track investigators, and, when it is the best option, for tenured senior investigators. Once the usual competitive search has been completed, we can appoint the scientist without further administrative red tape. Thus, Title 42 saves time and allows the hiring lab to snap up the very best researchers and make a formal offer much more quickly—a process that fits the scientific environment better.

Another advantage of Title 42 is that its pay structure is much more flexible than other systems. Unlike the "lock-step" system of the General Schedule (GS), Title 42 allows us to set pay at the appropriate level, based on the individual’s scientific expertise and competitive market rates.

What are the relationships between Title 42, permanence, and tenure?

Intramural tenure at NIH denotes independent scientific resources and salary that are continued throughout a scientist’s productive career. The decision to grant tenure at NIH is independent of hiring authority. Title 42 appointments must be renewed every 1 to 5 years, whereas most GS appointments do not require renewal. Title 42 positions may seem somewhat tenuous, but this is largely a matter of appearance. Many of the scientists appointed under Title 42—such as scientists in the Senior Biomedical Research Service—are leading lights in the intramural program and we expect they will spend their entire career at NIH.

How are Title 42 salaries set? What criteria are used to set pay?

First and foremost, the individual’s scientific credentials must be peer-reviewed to ensure that she or he meets the requirements for the position. This is done in one of several ways. For outside recruits, the search committee reviews the accomplishments of all applicants and recommends a group of finalists to the selecting official. A number of institutes and centers (ICs) ask their promotion review boards to provide input on these recommendations. At higher salary levels, if Title 42 is applied to a current NIH scientist, the deputy director for intramural research (DDIR) asks at least two senior scientists with knowledge of the area to review the nominee. Their recommendations will be weighed along with a recent Board of Scientific Counselors review.

Once the credentials review is completed, the next step is to set salary. The scientific director and the institute director make salary recommendations for scientists in their ICs. The ICs may approve pay up to Executive Level 1—the salary of the HHS secretary and the NIH director—currently $157,000.

When the proposed salary is higher than Executive Level 1, or where a proposed increase is greater than $30,000, a board chaired by the DDIR and the deputy director for management also looks at pay. For clinical scientists, this board includes the director of the Clinical Center, several clinical directors, and the director of human resources.

Thanks to the pay flexibility of Title 42, salary decisions may take into account pay levels for comparable senior positions in universities and other private research environments. Considerations may also include the current salary of individuals recruited from outside and competing offers.

The board also considers pay equity within NIH—what scientists with similar experience, accomplishments, and duties are making. After these deliberations, most cases proceed to the NIH director for final approval; in rare instances, we must obtain approval from the office of the HHS secretary.

What is likely in the future with Title 42?

I foresee several things. First, there is growing interest in more guidelines for setting competitive salaries. What shape such guidelines would take is not clear yet, but a set of overlapping salary bands for different professional designations may evolve.

Pay equity among scientists is another very important issue—The more flexible the system, the greater the chance of imbalances. We will have to remain vigilant to ensure that salaries across institutes and centers are based on scientific accomplishments, responsibilities, and experience.

Finally, we need to ensure that our Title 42 authority is not compromised by inappropriate uses. We want to be sure that our pay structure can pass muster internally and during any outside independent review. To safeguard this mechanism that has helped us attract, recruit, and retain many outstanding scientists, we will continue careful oversight of Title 42 at NIH.

–Stephen Benowitz

NIH Director of Human Resources



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