From the Deputy Director for Intramural Research

Seeds of Change: What NIH Has Sown

Michael Gottesman

Michael Gottesman

MaryAnn Guerra

MaryAnn Guerra

When Vice President Al Gore announced the National Performance Review two years ago, he called on Cabinet members to identify "reinvention laboratories" in their departments to serve as "seeds of change" for the entire government. NIH, with the strong backing of the External Advisory Committee, seized this opportunity to make changes in its administratively encumbered intramural program. The NIH Intramural Reinvention Working Group (IRWG) was formed, and in September 1994, the group submitted a proposal to the Public Health Service (PHS) outlining a framework for developing new approaches to intramural operations. This framework was designed to complement efforts spearheaded by other groups, including the Office of the Director, the NIH Reeingineering Oversight Committee, and Intramural Reinvention Laboratory Working Groups (see May-June 1995 issue).

Made up of working scientists and like-minded administrative staff, IRWG is dedicated to eliminating administrative roadblocks to scientific research and to streamlining operations to optimize use of increasingly scarce resources. Although the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has not formally accepted IRWG's proposal to develop an Intramural Reinvention Laboratory, our recommendations have served as a catalyst for many recent changes in procurement, personnel, management controls, and technology transfer.

NIH has made many concrete moves to shorten the time needed for major purchases and intramural expenses. Perhaps the most-talked-about project in scientific circles is the charge-card pilot under way at NCI and NCHGR. The test is proceding smoothly, and the process of reconciling actual charges with billing statements will be converted from a paper system to an electronic system in April. The target date for implementing charge-card use across NIH is June.

Improved ordering and budget tracking for scientific staff is also being pursued. IRWG awarded an NIH-wide Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) to AR&T Systems of Towson, Md., to develop a seamless electronic system on the World Wide Web for locating appropriate vendors, equipment, supplies, and services. The system is intended to facilitate compliance with federal procurement and to interact with existing NIH administrative systems. We expect a pilot system to be available to interested institutes, centers, and divisions (ICDs) this summer.

NIH recently received authority to make many large purchases that in the past had to be approved at higher levels, including HHS. For example, the threshold for open-market purchases processed through DelPro has been raised to $10,000, the threshold for automated data-processing and telecommunications purchases to $50,000, and the threshold for small acquisitions to $100,000. In addition, ICDs can now order the maximum limit of supplies specified in Federal Supply Schedule Contracts. These changes should mean that rank-and-file scientists will receive supplies and equipment faster due to the reduction of time-consuming justification, competition, and processing paperwork.

As for contracts, we have eliminated pre-solicitation contract review, as well as the requirement that the NIH Office of General Counsel review contract awards of $5 million or more. NIH also received an increase in its authority to approve Justification for Other than Full and Open Competition (JOFOC), which allows for noncompetitive procurements when research requires ordering from a sole source. The station-support contract limit was raised from $1 million to $10 million, and the corresponding ceiling for research and development was raised from $2.5 million to $10 million. Chief contracting officers have also been granted increased JOFOC approval (from $50,000 to $100,000).

Changes in our personnel system center on improving salary scales and recognizing scientific achievement. The Senior Biomedical Research Service has been initiated with 26 intramural appointments and three recruitments to date. The NIH director is now allowed to extend Title 38 pay provisions to M.D.s, and many of our clinical researchers and staff physicians are benefitting from these substantial salary supplements. In addition, ICD directors have received authority to grant incentive awards of up to $10,000, with the option to redelegate such authority to their scientific directors and/or lab and branch chiefs. With the permission of their scientific directors, lab and branch chiefs now have the power to grant awards to fellows and approve annual pay increases for fellows within established pay bands. As for performance review, the NIH director has received the go-ahead to create a new appraisal system that may include a pass/fail process that could also separate payment of performance awards from the final rating

Management Controls
Responding to the research community's needs, NIH has succeeded in cutting some of the time and paperwork involved in the legally mandated Management Controls Review Process. PHS gave IRWG permission to develop a streamlined review process that features a methodical and uniform self-assessment by each scientific director. Although such reviews will increase oversight because they occur annually rather than every five years, the self-assessment process - set to begin this fiscal year - should be simpler because it will eliminate complex audits in each management-control area by outside reviewers.

Tech Transfer
The National Technology and Advancement Act of 1996, which passed the Senate and is expected to be considered by the House later this year, would spell a major improvement in tech-transfer operations. The bill would allow NIH scientists to use royalty income for research, would exempt positions paid for with CRADA and royalty income from full-time employee (FTE) hiring limits, and would raise the royalty cap from $100,000 to $150,000 per inventor per year.

These achievements reflect the activities of the Office of Administration, the Office of Financial Management, and the Office of Human Resource Management, all working together to improve how business is conducted at NIH. IRWG is currently looking for new members to fill recently vacated slots. To get involved, contact Mary Ann Guerra (e-mail:

Michael Gottesman
Mary Ann Guerra
Co-Chairs, NIH Intramural Reinvention Working Group

Return to the Table of Contents