The Senate today confirmed geneticist Francis Collins as director of the National Institutes of Health. A Senate committee had approved the nomination of the former NIH genome institute director on Tuesday without holding the customary hearing, just 4 weeks after Collins was tapped by the White House. Collins was part of a block of nominations voted on by unanimous consent.
The former leader of the Human Genome Project will face several urgent issues in his new job as chief of the $30 billion NIH. The most immediate is the $10.4 billion windfall that NIH received earlier this year as part of the economic stimulus package. NIH officials are scrambling to make awards by the end of September for much of the money, which drew a record number of applications for so-called Challenge Grants. It's a mixed blessing, however. Collins will need to push for the budget NIH needs to keep scientists going when their stimulus grants run out in 2 years. Other items expected to be high on his agenda: making sure grant proposals for human embryonic stem cell research comply with new guidelines and revising NIH's rules for managing financial conflicts of interest.
Collins is on a family vacation next week but is expected at NIH soon after his return.