Report faults NIH on conflicts

More than a year ago, Ned Feder, former National Institutes of Health researcher and now staff scientist at the linkurl:Project on Government Oversight,;http://www.pogo.org/index.shtml wrote in a linkurl:letter;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/43576/ appearing in the __The Scientist__ that NIH-funded scientists "have been filing financial disclosure statements within their own institutions. However, their disclosure statements are kept secret, within each institution." Feder asked th

Bob Grant
Jan 17, 2008
More than a year ago, Ned Feder, former National Institutes of Health researcher and now staff scientist at the linkurl:Project on Government Oversight,;http://www.pogo.org/index.shtml wrote in a linkurl:letter;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/43576/ appearing in the __The Scientist__ that NIH-funded scientists "have been filing financial disclosure statements within their own institutions. However, their disclosure statements are kept secret, within each institution." Feder asked the question, "Why not require easily accessible public disclosure of the statements?" It now seems that the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has caught on to Feder's observations. An OIG linkurl:report,;http://www.oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/oei-03-06-00460.pdf published this week, contained three findings: __1) "NIH could not provide an accurate count of the financial conflict-of-interest reports that it received from grantees during fiscal years 2004 through 2006." 2) "NIH is not aware of the types of financial conflicts of interest that exist within grantee institutions because details are not required to...
t,;http://www.pogo.org/index.shtml wrote in a linkurl:letter;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/43576/ appearing in the __The Scientist__ that NIH-funded scientists "have been filing financial disclosure statements within their own institutions. However, their disclosure statements are kept secret, within each institution." Feder asked the question, "Why not require easily accessible public disclosure of the statements?" It now seems that the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has caught on to Feder's observations. An OIG linkurl:report,;http://www.oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/oei-03-06-00460.pdf published this week, contained three findings: __1) "NIH could not provide an accurate count of the financial conflict-of-interest reports that it received from grantees during fiscal years 2004 through 2006." 2) "NIH is not aware of the types of financial conflicts of interest that exist within grantee institutions because details are not required to be reported and most conflict-of-interest reports do not state the nature of the conflict." 3) "Many (NIH) Institutes' primary method of oversight is reliance on grantee institutions' assurances that financial conflict-of-interest regulations are followed."__ In other words, NIH not only doesn't keep very good track of conflicts among the scientists it funds, but it also fails to recognize the types of conflicts that it's not keeping track of. (Huh?) All this because it relies solely on NIH grantees' home institutions to provide this information on conflicts of interest. So the OIG made three recommendations to the NIH so that it might shore up the situation before it gets even more out of control: __1) "Increase oversight of grantee institutions to ensure their compliance with Federal financial conflict-of-interest regulations." 2) "Require grantee institutions to provide details regarding the nature of financial conflicts of interest and how they are managed, reduced, or eliminated." 3) "Require Institutes to forward to OER [NIH's Office of Extramural Research] all financial conflict-of-interest reports that they receive from grantee institutions and ensure that OER's conflict-of-interest database contains information on all conflict-of-interest reports provided by grantee institutions."__ linkurl:Feder;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/15561/ told __The Scientist__ that these recommendations are only the beginning of what needs to be done to fix the way NIH manages conflicts of interest among NIH-funded researchers. "I agree with the recommendations in the [Inspector General's] report, which in my opinion are the minimum that is needed to deal with conflicts of interest," he said. According to the report, NIH agreed with two of these recommendations, but objected to obtaining detailed information about conflicts of interest from grantee institutions. "NIH stated that its collection of specific details of the nature and management of financial conflicts of interest would effectively transfer the responsibility for managing financial conflicts of interest from the grantee institutions to the Federal Government," the report read. David Korn, senior vice president for biomedical and health sciences research at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), agreed with the NIH's position. "The NIH knows it's infeasible and we believe it's infeasible," Korn told __The Scientist__. Korn said that direct NIH oversight of every specific conflict of interest at grantee institutions would create an unnecessary level of bureaucracy. "For NIH or any other agency to do that," he said, "they'd have to hire a regiment of people." Korn suggested instead that communication problems exit within the NIH and not between grantee institutions and the NIH. "The problem with NIH is that [conflict of interest] reports go to the Institute that funds the research," he said. "The Institutes are supposed to forward these reports over to OER. That's where the system broke down at NIH." But according to Feder, increased government oversight of conflicts of interest at grantee institutions is crucial. "I recognize the severe drawbacks to another layer of government oversight," he said, "but even so I think this kind of oversight is needed." Feder said that leaving grantee institutions to manage their own conflicts of interest and to pass along summary information to the NIH will continue to cause problems. "There are too many examples where this self-policing has been abused," he said.