by Rebecca Kolberg

After weathering 15 months of hiring and promotion freezes that sent a chill throughout the intramural research community, NIH is back in the business of hiring full-time employees and handing out GS-14-and-above promotions for nonsupervisory and supervisory positions.

"We are out of the freeze fully, although still limited by ceilings," says Deputy Director for Intramural Research Michael Gottesman. "In most institutes and centers, this should translate into some judicious hiring and processing of promotions."

Coming on the heels of January's long-awaited thaw in the full-time-employee (FTE) hiring freeze, the latest warming trend in NIH hiring and promotion affects the number of GS-14-and-above positions. Last year, the Clinton administration, in an effort to curb the swelling ranks of federal midlevel managers, fixed the ratio of higher-level to lower-level positions in the government work force. The mandate required that 10 percent of federal downsizing come in positions that are GS-14 and above. However, that mandate assumed that all federal positions that are GS-14 and above are held by supervisors or managers -- an incorrect assumption for NIH, where many highly trained scientists who receive GS-14-and-above salaries do not perform any managerial or supervisory tasks. In April, the Office of Management and Budget took note of the hardship that the GS-14-and-above freeze was causing among scientists and gave NIH permission to hire and promote freely at the GS-14-and-above level if the person is not in a supervisory role. Each institute, center, or division will also have a few GS-14-and-above supervisory positions open, but NIH administrators currently do not know how many of these slots will be available.

"This is good news. It means that anyone hired now into a GS-13 nonsupervisory position will have the opportunity to be promoted in the future and that we can hire senior scientific staff in nonsupervisory and some supervisory positions," Gottesman says. The action is also welcome news for those nonsupervisory, as well as some supervisory, scientists whose promotions have been delayed because of the freeze.

Meanwhile, the recent lifting of the moratorium on general FTE hiring continues to lift the morale of the NIH scientific community.

"The average scientist in an institute that is below its FTE ceiling [which is assigned by the Office of the Director] would be able to bring on the secretary or the technician for which they have recruitment authority," Gottesman says. "We can hire tenure-track investigators, an occasional expert, visiting scientists, and some staff fellows. We can recruit senior-level people now and offer them a few positions to staff their labs."

Currently, NIH as a whole is 800 to 1,000 FTEs below the ceiling, but the situation at individual institutes varies widely. The institutes, centers, and divisions (ICDs) that are currently most under the ceiling on a percentage basis are NIMH, NCHGR, NINR, and FIC. If an ICD has no FTE positions available, it may be able to convince another ICD that is under its FTE ceiling to lend it an FTE slot for the short term. "But this requires much trust and probably a written understanding since FTEs are now so precious," Gottesman says.

Furthermore, Gottesman notes that NIH's overall FTE ceiling for fiscal 1996 is tentatively about 65 positions below that of fiscal 1995. "Hence, if we fill up to the `95 ceiling, then we will need to lose some people by `96. So, it is likely that we will not hire up to the ceiling, at least not in long-term FTEs," he says.

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