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July 28, 2003
Volume 81, Number 30
CENEAR 81 30 p. 11
ISSN 0009-2347


SCIENCE POLICY

NIH SCIENCE JOBS UNDER REVIEW
Science positions are added to those jobs eligible for possible outsourcing

WILLIAM SCHULZ

Jobs for scientists are now among those at the National Institutes of Health that may be outsourced. In a memo circulated to NIH managers last week, administrators named two job classifications for scientists that may come under competitive sourcing review in fiscal 2004.

HOME TURF NIH’s administrative Building I.
NIH PHOTO
The three-page memo, a copy of which was obtained by C&EN, details the next phases at NIH of a White House Office of Management & Budget (OMB) efficiency drive, known as Circular A-76. The memo lists both the Intramural Research Fellows Program and Category 2 Senior Scientist job classifications as up for A-76 review. Ultimately, government positions within these categories could be abolished, with the same job functions instead provided by private contractors.

Circular A-76 is a massive, governmentwide effort to identify federal positions that might be better performed for less money by private-sector contractors. Federal employees are not automatically out of the running if their jobs are deemed competitive, however. They can bid along with private-sector players to continue providing their services.

Until now, A-76 reviews at NIH have focused on support and other nonscientific job categories. Administrators say jobs that involve the review of grants for NIH’s extramural research program will not fall under A-76 review.

Timothy Wheeles, a director in the NIH Office of Management, says he does not know who or how many people at NIH received last week’s memo—which he characterized as a draft—or if any deadline for response was indicated.

Asked to define the two classes of jobs for scientists that might come under A-76 review in fiscal 2004, Wheeles responds: “I am not intimately aware of what they do. I don’t exactly understand what they do.”

Asked how many people were currently employed in those categories, Wheeles says he doesn’t know that either. “These are general areas. There are no final decisions about review.”

NIH staff as well as outside observers have long been concerned that A-76 reviews would one day touch internal science positions. They view A-76 as a threat to the NIH system for the progression of scientific careers.

“This is the first time senior-level scientists have ever been suggested as a part of A-76,” says one NIH researcher, who adds that intramural research fellows are the NIH equivalent of postdocs.

“A lot of the culture here involves moving from postdoc status to the senior-scientist level. This is like taking tenure away,” he says.

Asked if NIH administrators had heard from staff scientists concerning the memo, Wheeles had no comment. But, he adds, comments from scientists “will not affect whether or not these job categories stay on the list” for possible outsourcing.



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