GOP Rep. McMorris Rodgers suggests reforms to boost NIH

June 14, 2024

Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, unveiled a set of proposals aimed at reforming the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in order to help the U.S. “maintain its innovative edge” against adversarial countries.

The proposal recommended regularly conducting a congressional mandated review of the “NIH’s performance, mission, objectives, and programs” as well as introducing term limits on the directors of Institutes and Centers under the agency.

“Decades of nonstrategic and uncoordinated growth created a system ripe for stagnant leadership, research duplication, gaps, misconduct, and undue influence,” McMorris Rodgers’s proposal stated.

The proposal comes shortly after Anthony Fauci, who served as National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for nearly 40 years, testified before a House committee for the first time since stepping down from government work.

While he was invited to discuss his actions during the COVID-19 pandemic, the issue of agency misconduct, specifically that of one of his subordinates, was also a key issue that was discussed during the hearing.

McMorris Rodgers’s proposal cited Fauci’s tenure as NIAID director among others when discussing the need for higher turnover.

“Dr. Anthony Fauci was the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) for 38 years before his retirement in 2022, and Dr. Richard Hodes has been the Director of the National Institute on Aging (NIA) for more than 30 years,” the proposal noted.

“This average tenure does not include prior work or experience in a different role or office within the NIH. The lack of turnover within NIH’s leadership may contribute to an inability to adapt to evolving expectations in the workplace or to proactively change an existing workplace culture.”

The proposal also recommended granting Congress expanded oversight of NIH funding by repealing authorization of the “PHS Evaluation Tap,” a feature of appropriations for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that allows the HHS secretary to redistribute funding for programs beyond their annual appropriations.

Reforms to NIH grants were included in the proposal as well. It recommended that grants be focused towards primary investigators, meaning entities that are responsible for preparing, conducting and administering a research grant. It also called for the continued prohibition of funding for gain-of-function research.

“Reform is long overdue. The NIH needs to regain the public’s trust by showing it can be transparent, accountable, and responsive, proving it is worthy of public and Congressional support, before it can reestablish itself as the nation’s preeminent medical research institute,” the proposal stated.