WASHINGTON, D.C.--Biomedical research advocates are disappointed to learn that one of their champions in Congress, Representative John Porter (R-IL), will not run for reelection next year. His decision brings to three the number of strong voices for biomedicine who are leaving their high-profile positions in the coming year.
Porter, chair of the House appropriations subcommittee that drafts the annual funding bill for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), made the surprise announcement yesterday afternoon. After 21 years on Capitol Hill, Porter told reporters, he wants to pursue "other opportunities and challenges," although he does not have a specific project in mind. Porter said he was proud of his work on "human rights, environmental issues, biomedical research, education," among other issues. He's one of a handful of Capitol Hill leaders who have worked to put the NIH budget on a path for doubling between 1998 and 2003. He has also spoken out several times of late about his frustrations in dealing with an increasingly fractious federal budget process.
Porter's decision to retire comes on the heels of similar actions by two other key players in biomedical politics. NIH director Harold Varmus revealed last week that he will be resigning in December to become president of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City (Science, 15 October 1999, p. 382). And Senator Connie Mack (R-FL)--another advocate of doubling NIH's budget by 2003 and a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee--announced in March that he will not run for reelection in 2000.
It might not be worrisome if just one of these figures were leaving, says Michael Stephens, lobbyist for the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology. But to have all three depart at the same time, he says, "could create a real problem" by depleting the ranks of high-level officials who care about biomedical research.