Trips that researchers at the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) accepted from nonfederal sponsors to present data at scientific meetings or institutions were a valid part of carrying out science and did not violate any federal rules. That's the gist of a letter sent last month by NCI and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), who questioned the trips in October.
Grassley complained that 16 NCI intramural scientists took 10 or more "sponsored" trips a year in 2008 or 2009 that sometimes cost over $10,000. The 3-page letter stamped 18 November from NIH Director Francis Collins and NCI Director Harold Varmus (released by NIH this week after a request under the Freedom of Information Act) says "it is vital that NIH scientists participate in scientific meetings" and that allowing societies, universities, and others to foot the bill "maximizes the resources available for exchanges of new data." The letter describes the review (including for potential conflicts of interest) that proposed sponsored travel undergoes and emphasizes that employees don't receive any personal financial benefit. NIH also gave Grassley 29 pages of spreadsheets detailing the sponsors, locations, and cost of the 16 employees' sponsored and government-paid trips from 2008 through 2010.