Two senators, including the chair of a powerful spending panel, have added their voices to a flood of complaints from researchers about the National Institutes of Health's (NIH's) plan to abolish its center for research resources to make room for a new translational sciences center.
In a brief letter sent 1 February to NIH and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Senators Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and Mark Begich (D-AK) express "concern and opposition" about NIH's plan to move the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program out of the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR). The IDeA program supports research infrastructure in states with relatively little NIH funding. The lawmakers write that the "NCRR staff has worked diligently" to get to know research in their states and that "a disruption of the placement and expertise at NCRR will only serve to dismantle the laudable work that has been accomplished."
The senators are also concerned about NIH's proposal to separate IDeA from another NCRR program for minority institutions. (NIH's straw model would put the Research Centers in Minority Institutions in NIH's institute for minority health, and IDeA in an interim unit in the NIH director's office.) "The synergy that exists between these programs needs to continue and separation will exact an unnecessary toll on each," the lawmakers write in the letter to NIH Director Francis Collins and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. (Nature's blog obtained and posted the letter online yesterday.)
Inouye is chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which holds the purse strings for NIH's budget. A staffer for the House Appropriations Committee has also raised concerns about the proposed dismantling of NCRR and creation of the new center, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS).
Whether NIH is sticking to its plan to create NCATS in October will become clear on Monday when President Barack Obama releases his 2012 budget request. NIH officials will also elaborate on the reorganization in a 23 February teleconference meeting of an advisory board that recommended the creation of NCATS.