By ANDRE FRANCISCO
A proposed requirement for greater transparency issued by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is in danger from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), so today POGO has sent a letter to OMB director Jack Lew urging him to keep the NIH's proposed requirement intact.
The NIH is working towards public disclosure of the financial ties between NIH-funded researchers and medical companies. Under the proposed requirement, NIH-funded researchers at medical schools and universities would have to publicly disclose their financial ties to medical companies. In March, POGO sent a letter to Dr. Francis Collins, the Director of the NIH, urging him to implement this idea, which he had shown support for.
But now POGO is worried that the proposed public database is threatened by the OMB. From the letter:
An intrusion by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) may be about to undermine the integrity of medical research supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). A new rule proposed by NIH will increase transparency in the financial arrangements of NIH-funded researchers in medical schools and universities. However, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is concerned that OMB may weaken or block an important part of the proposed new rule.
The reasons for requiring these disclosures to be public are clear. In a series of articles from 1998 to 2005, the Los Angeles Times detailed numerous scandals where NIH researchers had undisclosed conflicts of interest. So in 2005, the NIH banned all private payments to intramural NIH researchers, those working at the NIH campus in Bethesda. In recent years, similar undisclosed conflicts of interest have marred the NIH’s extramural program at medical schools and universities. As we've noted in the past, the NIH's extramural researchers do have to report to their home institution any financial ties that might lead to a conflict of interest, but these disclosures generally remain shielded from the public scrutiny.
Now the NIH proposes to deal with conflict of interest issues in its extramural program. The implementation of the proposed public disclosure rule will help prevent future scandals, but only if the OMB leaves the rule intact.
The letter, from POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian and POGO Staff Scientist Ned Feder, M.D., strongly urges Lew to leave the rule alone.
“If the creation of the public database is permitted by OMB, it will be a milestone in the NIH’s program of research at medical schools and universities—an advance of which the President and Dr. Collins can be proud.”
If you want to know more, you can read about POGO's efforts to promote integrity in science.
Andre Francisco is a POGO Associate.