ATLANTA—What is the role of basic research in an organization with an applied mission? That issue has surfaced in the recent investigation of the AIDS program at the Centers for Disease Control.

A three-member panel from the Institute of Medicine, in a December report, concluded that one of the AIDS laboratory units had suffered from poor scientific management, low morale and productivity, and a lack of clear research goals. The AIDS lab was created in 1983, when knowledge about the disease was scant, and virologists were given great leeway in their research.

Problems arose, said CDC Director James Mason, as researchers both inside and outside the Centers began to learn more about the disease. That new information led to a narrowing of the scope of the work at CDC.

"Our forte is epidemiological work, and the laboratory becomes a support service," Mason said. "That's not the role these people were...

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