The Office of AIDS Research

When it was first established in 1988, OAR served merely as a clearinghouse for NIH-supported AIDS research. Last year, under pressure from activist groups to centralize the NIH-supported AIDS research, Congress passed the NIH Reauthorization Act, reorganizing OAR and giving it new responsibilities and clout. The legislation specifies that OAR must prepare a strategic plan to define the areas of priorities for AIDS research in a given year, then submit a budget to Congress. Once the funds are appropriated, OAR distributes the money among the various institutes in accordance with the plan. The institutes retain all their responsibilities in making the grants and in establishing contracts or cooperative agreements to carry out the research, but OAR has the responsibility of determining the areas where research would be emphasized. In that sense, OAR will determine how much money the individual institutes will receive to fund the research they would be supporting in future years. Currently, the five areas of focus for OAR are natural history and epidemiology, etiology and pathogenesis, therapeutic research, vaccine research, and behavioral research. In addition, OAR has two smaller areas of emphasis: information dissemination, and research training and infrastructure. Using the coordinating committees and other outside and inside expertise, OAR decides priorities within each of these areas, and across them, for its annual strategic plan.