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August 21, 2007
Also appeared in print Aug. 27, 2007, p. 10

Government & Policy

An NIH Director Steps Aside

A sweeping investigation is under way at environmental health sciences institute

Bette Hileman

David A. Schwartz, the embattled director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Toxicology Program (NTP), will temporarily step aside while NIH conducts a broad review of his management. He is already under investigation by Congress for a variety of management and ethics issues.

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A survey of NIEHS scientists—the results of which were obtained by C&EN—reveals that Schwartz has lost the support of the research staff. When asked if they have confidence in the leadership of the institute, 107 of 146 scientists responding said no. And 99 of the 146 respondents said the actions of the NIEHS director have negatively affected morale.

During the past few months, members of Congress, especially Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), have been looking into allegations of mismanagement at NIEHS, which Schwartz has led since 2005. One serious concern is the amount of money Schwartz is spending on his personal laboratory. According to a letter Grassley sent to NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, Schwartz apparently spent $4 million more on his personal lab than the $1.8 million Congress authorized.

In addition, Grassley and Waxman have been investigating large budget cuts proposed for NIEHS's journal, Environmental Health Perspectives, and the use of an outside contractor with an apparent conflict of interest to write a draft report on the health effects of bisphenol A (C&EN, April 23, page 11). They also raise ethical questions about Schwartz testifying in asbestos trials and about his circumvention of normal hiring practices at NIEHS, which is located in Research Triangle Park, N.C., far from NIH???s primary campus in Bethesda, Md.

Zerhouni is commissioning senior management experts to conduct a comprehensive review of Schwartz's activities at NIEHS and NTP. He expects that the review will take several months. In the meantime, Samuel H. Wilson, deputy director of NIEHS, will take over as acting director of the institute and NTP.

"Although this development is personally painful, I am committed to a full and comprehensive review," Schwartz wrote in an e-mail to more than 600 staff members at the institute. "I urge you to cooperate fully with experts conducting the review."

During the review, Schwartz will continue to serve as chief of his personal lab, the Laboratory of Environmental Lung Disease. The lab is technically part of the National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute, but it is located at NIEHS.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society

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