|T H E N I H C A T A L Y S T||J U L Y A U G U S T 2005|
COMMENTARY FROM THE NIH ASSEMBLY OF SCIENTISTS
ASSEMBLY OF SCIENTISTS RECAPS
The Executive Committee of the Assembly of Scientists (AOS) was elected in February of this year and has been working hard to represent the views of NIH scientists. We have worked with representatives of intramural laboratory managers, extramural NIH staff, NIH leadership, and members of professional societies.
First Five Months:
The Executive Committee has achieved four objectives, particularly in response to the conflict-of-interest interim final regulations announced in February 2005 (see The NIH Catalyst, Special Reference Issue).
First, we have educated both the NIH community and the publicincluding the press and politiciansthat the charges of conflict of interest against a few scientists do not reflect the overwhelming majority of NIH scientists and employees. We have also spoken out against the interim final regulations, explaining how we view them as onerous, intrusive, and a threat to the ability of the NIH to accomplish its mission.
Second, weve encouraged NIH scientists and other employees, as well as professional societies and advocacy groups, to submit any objections they may have to the regulations during the official comment period and to communicate them as well to other interested parties.
Third, the Executive Committee proposed an alternative set of regulations designed to prohibit conflicts of interest without jeopardizing NIH recruitment and retention and employee freedom.
Fourth, to prepare the way for institutionalizing the Assembly of Scientists to address other important issues related to morale and the quality of life of NIH scientistsincluding paperwork, resources, and respectthe Executive Committee has devised bylaws and an organizational structure.
Changes in the Air
Along with many other factors, including extensive consultations with and work by Dr. Zerhouni, these activities have contributed to a change in atmosphere and attitudefrom one in which NIH scientists were viewed as engaged in unethical practices to enrich themselves to one in which the vast majority are not viewed this way and the regulations are perceived as overbroad and counterproductive. http://www.nih.gov/about/director/index.htm
This change in perception has been the critical prerequisite to generating the momentum to change the regulations.
It is also the impetus for our withdrawing a lawsuit we had launched in April to challenge the regulations. Although we had not considered the lawsuit the preferred option, we had sued because of the impending start of the stock divestiture clock and the statute of limitations that might have negated our right to sue. During the ensuing six weeks, the change in atmosphere and receptivity to our position made it much more likely that a revision approximating our proposal would occur in the policy rather than the legal arena. In addition, the withdrawal of the lawsuit has not foreclosed any rights.
In mid-May, the Committee met with the NIH director to discuss potential revisions in the conflict-of-interest regulations and their future implementation. As a result of that meeting, we have chosen an Executive Committee member to serve on the Implementation Committee, and we look forward to helping ensure that new regulations are implemented in a fair, balanced, and effective manner that does not overwhelm NIH employees with paperwork.
Throughout this process the Executive Committee has been working with the deputy director for intramural research; AOS representatives are now regularly attending the Scientific Directors meetings to enhance communication.
Finally, working with legal council, the Executive Committee has drafted new bylaws, which can be viewed at the Assembly web site.
These bylaws call for a Council of 24 members, 12 representing institutes and centers and 12 at-large delegates. At least three places will be reserved, one each for a tenure-track investigator, a staff clinician, and a staff scientist. Members of the Council will elect a 10-member Executive Committee and select a chair, deputy chair, secretary, and treasurer, each of whom will serve a one-year term.
Elections for the Council will be held in October 2005, and the newly elected members will begin serving in November.
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