The much-admired system to review grant proposals at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, has become the latest flashpoint in a long-running battle between Congress and the executive branch over how the U.S. government manages advisory bodies.
NIH’s parent body, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in Washington, D.C., opposes legislation moving rapidly through Congress that is aimed at making those committees more transparent. The department says that if the bill becomes law, its requirements could cause monthslong delays in appointing reviewers to NIH study sections and create massive amounts of additional paperwork. In addition, “requiring [NIH peer reviewers] to go through this process could be a major disincentive to service,” HHS argued in a 9 April letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–KY).
Supporters of the bill say they responded to HHS’s concerns, first expressed in a similar letter sent to McConnell last year, by tweaking the bill to exempt NIH study sections. But HHS officials are now demanding the exclusion of all HHS advisory bodies, including those at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they say. Such a blanket exemption would gut the proposed reforms, proponents argue.