The Scientist's Advocate

Of the various teams struggling to untangle NIH's heap of red tape, the Intramural Reinvention Working Group (IRWG) has the well-earned reputation of being the strongest voice for the scientific community.

Formed nearly two years ago to identify the administrative roadblocks to intramural research, IRWG counts eight scientists among its 15 members. In September 1994, NIH Director Harold Varmus approved the IRWG report detailing the bureaucratic obstacles faced by NIH scientists and recommending ways to remove those barriers - a report that has contributed to NIH's Business Process Reengineering (BPR) activities as well as to the reinvention efforts spearheaded by the Office of Financial Management (OFM), the Office of Administration (OA), and the Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM).

"Our group is considered the scientist's advocate. The changes we promote are changes that we think would be positive for NIH and would improve the quality of life for the intramural scientist," says MaryAnn Guerra, co-chair of IRWG and executive officer at NHLBI.

Among the IRWG recommendations that have been placed high on the priority list of OA's reinvention activities is streamlined credit card purchasing. Meanwhile, OHRM is following through on IRWG's call for a simplified pass-fail performance-review process, and the revision of time-keeping procedures has been initiated as a BPR project.

Although most of IRWG's suggested changes have been channeled to the appropriate functional areas within NIH for implementation, the working group itself is not shying away from the monumental task of turning its ideas into reality. IRWG has initiated a new, streamlined approach to internal management controls: the self-assessment of the most sensitive management areas performed annually by scientific directors. A test of the streamlined approach at NHLBI found that the new self-assessment form took fewer than 4 hours to complete. In contrast, the previous, lengthy assessment process required a multidisciplinary audit team, Guerra says.

IRWG is also putting together a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) proposal in hopes of finding an industrial partner to create a fully automated system for facilitating the ordering of intramural supplies and services. The proposed state-of-the-art, computer-based system would feature electronic catalog access, generation of order forms, budgeting, and oversight.

Despite those strides, at least one IRWG member thinks it's far too early for the group to sit back and rest upon its laurels. "We may be moving in the right direction, but so far, to me the motion has been almost imperceptible," says David Ledbetter of NCHGR. "We still have a long ways to go."

For more information on IRWG or to voice your ideas about removing administrative barriers to science at NIH, contact MaryAnn Guerra (phone: 496-2411; fax: 402-3686; e-mail:

- Rebecca Kolberg

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