WASHINGTON--One day last fall NIH lost one-half of its "outstanding" scientist administrators. Nobody left, and there was no immediate drop in the amount or quality of work being performed on the Bethesda campus. The change was strictly on paper, a result of a 1986 decision by the Reagan administration to reduce the number of “outstanding” performance ratings given to senior executives throughout the government.

But NIH Director James Wyngaarden and others feel the policy delivers a devastating blow to morale at an agency already struggling to staunch the flow of top scientists to universities and private industry. And a congressional oversight committee recently took top Health and Human Services Department officials to task for their "grotesquely unfair" actions and their "insensitivity" toward federal workers.

NIH historically has given the highest possible performance rating to a large proportion "as much as 80 percent"of its top administrators and scientists. Two years...

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