News from the Hill

Weigh in on initiatives across NIH

Benjamin Corb
Oct. 1, 2018

The Public Affairs Advisory Committee represents the members of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology not only before elected officials but also at funding agencies to ensure the creation of sound policies that support their research. We do our job best when ASBMB members share their concerns and ideas with us.

Here are some issues we’re monitoring. Please consider weighing in.

Increasing data transparency

The ASBMB PAAC develops policy statements and recommendations. It also responds to requests for comments from funding agencies.

The PAAC supports its arguments using data that are either publicly available or provided by the agency after the PAAC submits a Freedom of Information Act request.

Unfortunately, agency calls for comment sometimes have short submission windows, and materials requested by the PAAC under the FOIA don’t always arrive in time for the committee to use them as intended. The PAAC is working with the National Institutes of Health to make more agency data relating to grants publically available.

We often use the NIH’s Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tool, called both RePORTer and RePORT, depending on who you talk to.

While RePORT contains lots of data, some are not easy to suss out, particularly when we are trying to analyze historical and demographic information. Making data more easily accessible will help scientists and scientific societies provide effective and meaningful recommendations to improve the biomedical enterprise.

One final thought on this topic: The blogs of several NIH leaders sometimes offer deep issue analyses and provide information on the NIH’s research portfolio that is not publicly available. Deputy Director for Extramural Research Mike Lauer publishes his Open Mike blog, and National Institute for General Medical Sciences Director Jon Lorsch publishes the NIH Feedback Loop. While these blogs include graphs to illustrate data and trends accompanied by useful insight and analyses, the raw data behind these figures are sometimes inaccessible.

Supporting the next generation of researchers

The PAAC has provided preliminary comments to the NIH working group that is crafting policy recommendations to support the future biomedical research workforce.

Mandated by the U.S. Congress in the 21st Century Cures Act, the Next Generation Researchers Initiative will provide NIH institutes with strategies to better support early-stage and at-risk investigators. The policies that come out of this effort are likely to have an influence on grant funding at all career stages and may result in changes to the research enterprise that are long overdue, including changing the definition of “early-stage investigator” and enacting policies that are aimed at supporting at-risk investigators.

In a recent email, the PAAC asked ASBMB members for comments on how the NIH can support early-stage and at-risk investigators. The PAAC has published several documents on strategies to support young researchers. Because we want our members’ voices to be heard, we have created an online tool for you to review these recommendations and share your opinions.

Diversity of NIH councils

The public affairs staff is analyzing the makeup of the federal advisory councils within the NIH, the groups of scientists who provide guidance to leaders shaping internal NIH policies. Each institute has an advisory council, and several additional advisory councils advise the NIH director.

We are reviewing gender, race and ethnicity, geography, career stage, and other variables. We believe diversity must be considered when filling vacancies on NIH councils. Councils should include a variety of perspectives and professional experiences to advocate for policies that will support all of the research enterprise.

Our analysis is in the early stages, and we look forward to sharing our results with you later this year.

Want to know more about these efforts, or have a topic you’d like us to address? Email us.

Benjamin Corb

Benjamin Corb is director of public affairs at ASBMB.

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