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Questions about NIH agency chief linger

One lawmaker has levied more allegations of mismanagement against linkurl:David Schwartz;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/home/53502/ , director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Last week, Schwartz temporarily stepped down from his position while the National Institutes of Health, which oversees NIEHS, conducts a linkurl:"comprehensive review of the management and leadership";http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/aug2007/od-20.htm at the agency. Senator linkurl:Charles Grassley

By | August 29, 2007

One lawmaker has levied more allegations of mismanagement against linkurl:David Schwartz;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/home/53502/ , director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Last week, Schwartz temporarily stepped down from his position while the National Institutes of Health, which oversees NIEHS, conducts a linkurl:"comprehensive review of the management and leadership";http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/aug2007/od-20.htm at the agency. Senator linkurl:Charles Grassley;http://grassley.senate.gov/public/ (R-IA), ranking member of the United States Senate Committee on Finance, continues to ask tough questions of NIH head, linkurl:Elias Zerhouni;http://www.nih.gov/about/director/index.htm , who appointed Schwartz more than two years ago and serves as his direct supervisor. Adding to linkurl:letters;http://www.senate.gov/~finance/sitepages/grassley.htm sent earlier this year, Grassley sent Zerhouni a new linkurl:letter;http://grassley.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=PressReleases.Detail&PressRelease_id=ae641491-1321-0e36-baa8-64587774599c&Month=8&Year=2007 , dated August 27, that outlines further transgressions allegedly perpetrated by Schwartz and reprimands Zerhouni for the "slow pace of NIH's response" to previous questions. In the most recent letter, Grassley details several instances of Schwartz's alleged mismanagement. First, Grassley writes that the NIH's Office of Management Assessment "either missed and/or ignored" evidence of Schwartz's use of government computers and support staff for personal purposes when they investigated the issue last year. The letter charged Schwartz with having two government laptops and two government desktop computers in his possession and with using NIEHS computer support specialists to help set up these computers for Schwartz, his wife and child to use. The letter asks Zerhouni to provide all the communications and documents related to the OMA's report, which Grassley writes has been called a "white wash" by NIH employees assisting him with his investigation. The letter also charges Schwartz with ignoring ethical considerations when NIEHS awards extramural grants. Though the letter does not identify specific instances in which Schwartz, who maintains several scientific collaborations with academics and institutions outside NIH, bent the rules, but does claim that Schwartz, "has attempted to create his own process for vetting his ethics and conflicts of interest," while consulting neither the NIH nor NIEHS ethics officers. Schwartz's ties to Duke University, where he was a tenured professor before becoming NIEHS director, are also questioned in the letter. Grassley writes that his investigators have compiled evidence that Schwartz "has maintained almost constant contact with Duke since taking over leadership of NIEHS," even though he was supposed to have cut his ties to the university last spring and engaged in a "one-year cooling off period." The letter also outlines a linkurl:vote of no confidence;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/home/53502/ against Schwartz taken by tenured and tenure-track researchers at NIEHS. In the letter, Grassley warns Zerhouni, "Indeed, the ballot seems to indicate that the problems brought upon NIEHS and NIH by Dr. Schwartz are perhaps far beyond the ability of a panel of senior NIH executives to address," referring to the planned NIH management review. The letter closes with Grassley writing to Zerhouni, "I look forward to greater attention to this matter on your part." I called Zerhouni and the NIH press office for comment, and will post again if I hear back from them. Stay tuned to **__The Scientist__** to follow this developing story. UPDATE (3:30 PM EDT): John Burklow, NIH spokesperson speaking on behalf of Zerhouni says, "[Zerhouni] takes the allegations and the senator's concerns very seriously." Grassley's linkurl:letter;http://grassley.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=PressReleases.Detail&PressRelease_id=ae641491-1321-0e36-baa8-64587774599c&Month=8&Year=2007 outlines Zerhouni's lack of a complete response to a letter sent to NIH on April 22, in which Grassley asked Zerhouni to provide the Senate Committee on Finance documents related to alleged mismanagement by NIEHS chief David Schwartz by July 10. From Grassley's most recent letter: "It is now five weeks past that due date and I still have not received a complete response." Burklow, however, says that "[NIH] has been responsive to the senator's requests and concerns," and that, "Dr. Zerhouni certainly wants to get down to all the facts and respond accordingly." Burlow also says that "[NIH] will be responding directly to [Grassley's most recent] letter in a matter of days. We're not going to let it languish."
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Mettler Toledo
BD Biosciences
BD Biosciences