Credit: National Institutes of Health
Barbara Alving, who heads the doomed National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), announced earlier this week
that she's resigning at the end of September.
Alving's decision to step down after 6 years in charge of NCRR is no surprise. The $1.3 billion center, which funds biomedical resources such as large
instruments and animal models, is slated to have its programs spread among other NIH institutes on 1 October under a controversial plan by NIH Director
Francis Collins to create a National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS). Alving was one of many scientists who opposed the
reorganization, arguing that it would make
more sense to expand NCRR instead of scrapping it altogether.
Alving told ScienceInsider that she's leaving now because she has completed her "major goals," including establishing the Clinical and
Translational Science Awards—large support grants set up 5 years ago to support bench-to-bedside research at major academic medical centers. That
program, which replaced a popular clinical research program, offers lessons for how reorganizations should be done, Alving suggests. "Many constituents
were not happy," she says. But "there was a lot of discussion, a lot of buy-in. ... There was a timeline, finances were worked out, we knew where
funding would come from, Congress kept its part of the agreement."
Those things "did not happen optimally" with the current NIH reorganization, she says. NIH "tried to get community buy-in" from NCRR stakeholders but
only "after the fact."
But Alving points out that NCRR's demise is not guaranteed. Congress isn't expected to pass a 2012 spending bill for NIH by 1 October. The House of
Representatives panel that funds NIH has questioned the reorganization; even if
Senate budgeteers are more supportive, NIH's 2012 budget may wind up being part of a continuing resolution, a bill that extends funding from a previous
year. Lawmakers would need to carve out an exception to dissolve NCRR and create NCATS. "I actually think that NCRR is going to continue on for an
indefinite period of time," Alving says.
The uncertainty has left in limbo NCRR's staff members, who have been told they'll move with their programs to other institutes but haven't received
individual assignments. Alving's farewell note advises them to "keep calm and carry on."
Alving, 65, is a hematologist who served as deputy and acting director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and also headed the
Women's Health Initiative before she came to NCRR, first as acting director. She now plans to explore opportunities in global health and consulting,
Two days after Alving's Monday announcement, Collins issued an NIH-wide note commending her for "her stalwart service" to NIH and "her dedication and
commitment." NCRR Deputy Director Louise Ramm will become NCRR acting director.
Alving's resignation adds to several NIH director vacancies. Anthonio Scarpa, director of the Center for Scientific Review, steps down later this
month. Scarpa told NIH staff in late July that he was leaving in part to make
room for someone who will "better match the [NIH] Director's vision and management style." NIH is working on a statement from Collins about Scarpa's
departure, the NIH press office said. And Jeremy Berg, chief of the National
Institute for General Medical Sciences, left NIH in June; no replacement has been named yet.
The NHLBI has also lacked a permanent director since Elizabeth Nabel left in late 2009. That makes five of NIH's 27 institutes and centers soon to be
without a permanent head. (The fifth vacancy is at the Center for Information Technology, NIH's campus computing center.)
*This item has been updated to reflect that although Alving has been NCRR's director since 2007, she began as acting director in 2005, and has thus been in charge of NCRR for 6 years, not 4 years.