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October 31, 2006


NIH Scientists Are Unhappy With Ethics Rules

Survey finds many scientists chafing under year-old restrictions

Susan R. Morrissey

A survey of NIH's more than 18,000 employees indicates that nearly 40% of tenured or tenure-track scientists at the agency are or have considered looking for a job outside NIH because of the agency's year-old ethics rules. The rules limiting outside activities, financial holdings, and awards to NIH employees were enacted in August 2005 to deal with a growing number of conflict-of-interest allegations at the agency.


According to the survey, nearly 80% of the 8,000 NIH employees who responded were satisfied with their jobs. Forty percent of the respondents, however, felt the rules were too restrictive, and the limitation on outside activities was the biggest factor. Just over half of the respondents indicated that they believed the rules would have a negative impact on the recruitment and retention of employees.

The situation appears slightly more worrisome if one looks just at the responses from tenured and tenure-track scientists, who make up about 20% of the agency's staff. The survey shows that 80% of these scientists find the rules to be too restrictive. And about 90% of this group believes that the rules would have a negative impact on recruitment and retentions at NIH.

As to whether the new rules are causing employees to consider leaving NIH, nearly 90% of all respondents indicated that they are not actively looking or considering looking for a job outside the agency. That number drops to just over 60% for tenured and tenure-track scientists.

"While these results are consistent with anecdotal evidence of a possible impact of the regulations on recruitment and retention, human resources data from 2005 indicate there has not been a change in the rate of resignations or retirements among NIH scientists over the last several years," NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni said in a memo to all NIH staff. He also noted that although the survey does "suggest concerns about the impact on recruitment and retention, at this time we do not anticipate revisions in the regulations."

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
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