Toni Says Ciao

Update: CSR (but not the NIH) has announced Toni’s resignation. Nature has an interview with him as well.

Toni Scarpa is resigning from CSR as of September. He is the trailing spouse of Meredith Bond, who will move up from Department Chair to Dean of the College of Sciences and Health Professions at Cleveland State University. Toni of course came to the NIH from Case Western and will no doubt find something to keep him off the streets and out of the pool halls in his old stomping grounds.

Toni sent out a farewell notice to his colleagues yesterday, noting that:

My departure will permit the NIH Director to search for a new CSR leader who will have renewed enthusiasm and fresher ideas for this strategically important position, and who will also better match the Director’s vision and management style.

Yes, things have changed since the departure of the Great Zerhouni.

Toni modestly summarizes the significant accomplishments and challenges that he managed while at CSR:

These 6 years have been an exhilarating experience and I consider myself fortunate and privileged to have served in a period of unprecedented changes, and opportunities, in peer review. Thanks to a professional and dedicated staff, CSR has managed to review 50% more applications, in addition to 40,000 ARRA applications two years ago. It was also a fulfilling experience to be able to help NIH design the first major changes in peer review in 65 year and to have CSR implementing them.

And he signs off with kind recognition of his colleagues in and outside the NIH:

Personally it was an incredible privilege to meet with thousands of faculty, researchers and reviewers and to interact personally with every study section chair. Even more of a privilege was to interact with many of you as a colleague and often as a friend. I doubt there is anywhere in the world a group of people so smart, professional, dedicated and effective, and at the same time overworked, underpaid and underappreciated.

Here, here. Thanks for all you have done for the extramural community, Toni. The beer in Cleveland has no doubt improved since you left, but the winters have not. Ciao.

Update: Collins has appointed Richard Nakamura, PhD to serve as Acting Director of CSR starting September 18 (Deputy Director Cheryl Kitt, PhD will assume leadership from Sept 3-18).

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42 Comments »

  1. who will also better match the Director’s vision and management style

    AHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!! Sounds like he thinks Collins is a total douchebagge!!!!!!!

  2. AH said

    Thank you Dr Scarpa. You’ve done a great job and good luck in your keeping yourself off the streets….. hopefully you can get yourself a new Lambretta and go back to India!.

    That would be a real treat after after all those 6 years of hard work. You kept us real busy.

    Ciao!.

  3. April Andrews said

    It looks as if NIH is producing a nice bunch of spouse “trailers”. Just wondering if I could send my husband there for an internship.

  4. anon said

    Sorry … writedit draws the line … please leave these sorts of comments in the thought bubble over your head.

  5. pseudoanon said

    @anon:

    Which ones?. It seems as though the comments, so far, are in line with the post.

  6. Amazed traveler said

    Caminante, son tus huellas
    el camino y nada más;
    Caminante, no hay camino,
    se hace camino al andar.
    Al andar se hace el camino,
    y al volver la vista atrás
    se ve la senda que nunca
    se ha de volver a pisar.
    Caminante no hay camino
    sino estelas en la mar.

    (Antonio Machado)

    Good luck to you, savant voyageur.

  7. curie said

    He is getting out on a high note, great work. Best wishes.

    • bob snederson said

      Absolutely. He’s done a great job. What is unclear is why an official announcement has not been released yet. Is there any procedural requirement on resignation’s acceptance by the HHS authority?.

      • writedit said

        This is an interesting point. I learned of the resignation from Tony Mazzaschi’s listserv (AAMC) last Tuesday and checked with various colleagues at the NIH to confirm. But, indeed, his resignation still has not been officially announced on either the CSR or NIH Website. Curious.

  8. kanamisa said

    Outstanding leaders pass the torch at the right time. Excellent job. You’ll be missed though. Best wishes for the future.

  9. AH said

    One possibility, in these times of financial constraints, is that his colleagues/peers, are still collecting moneys for the new Lambretta gift. It was easier to get Collins a new guitar but now with this “debt ceiling climate” they might just have to get him a pair of nice skates…..maybe it is not that bad, after all, considering that winters have not improved!

    • HAHAHAHAHA!

      Now that a deal on debt ceiling has been reached, he might be lucky and get a pair of coordinated snowboard pants with the skates. In 2005, he took the CSR task in shorts. Or so did nih record show.

  10. Gosh !, This is unbelievable. I just sneaked into the NIH Director’s awards (NIH only) and Toni was the first in line. He got the snowboard pants and Collins asked him to try them on. I thought he would feel shy or intimidated but no…. there he was trying them. He liked them and kept them on…. He must be a little bit hottish now.

    I did not manage to see the skates because the videocast turned off in my computer….

  11. Guest said

    The word is out. American Science knows no frontiers, no barriers and we are all in that same very boat. Thanks Toni !.

  12. anon said

    To manage money effectively is doable. And is mandatory under the circumstances. If CSR has been able to save 35 million/year and do more with less, all the other institutes and centers can do it. If investigators are required creativity and determination to compete in an extraordinarily harsh circumstances, their institutes should first set up the example for them to follow.

    • einstein said

      that comment shows how little you know about NIH organizationally and budgetarily. CSR does not fund any grants; therefore, ALL of its money is for overhead and operational expenses, and cutting $35 million — while perhaps difficult on employees — is nonetheless quite possible. All of the funding Institutes (i.e., those who fund all those grants that CSR reviews) are constrained to no more than 5% of budget for operating costs. So yeah, cutting $35 million from each of them would be “easy”, too — except that those will be dollars that would otherwise go to grants, since the amount going to anything else is miniscule. As they say, be careful what you ask for….

      • anon said

        Einstein,

        I may know very little about NIH and don’t have an inferiority complex for that. But I do know that CSR does not fund any grants. It has been so since its ancestor, the Research Grants Office, was founded in 1946. Financial crisis have happened since then –though may not as severe as this one– and yet, at no time but during Dr Scarpa’s tenure, the Center for Scientific Review has been able to collectively achieve such a timely accomplishment: transform the peer review system by looking at the essence of its origins and reinventing it for today’s needs, with the future in its horizon and setting it in a context of continuous evaluation. Whether you admitted it or not they have wisely read the “signs of the times”, anticipated the severity of upcoming times and, in dialogue with the entire community, have come up with sound strategies to overcome actual challenges. Indeed, their strategies have not only being innovative but have also resulted in cost-effective solutions that have incorporated a high number of scientists and technical personnel into their workforce. They have placed the value of peer review and the Center’s mission in its authentic context: one of an invaluable process to lead the nation into open pathways for reinstating intellectual, social and economic leadership. Have they done it to perfection?. NO and nobody will because perfection doesn’t exist.

        I am also aware that all other Institutes and Centers are the ones that fund research grants. I have no doubt that they are conventionally careful in administering the “minuscule” percentage for operating costs. But I am questioning their overall management strategies, for the most adequate use of rather abundance of resources, to respond to extraordinary difficult times. To accept that pay lines will continue to go down and new, as well as not that new very talented investigators will be forced to get out of science because the abundance of resources does not continue to pile up is, simply, unacceptable. There are ways to face the situation and manage it much better to the benefit of science and public health. Now we have hard evidence that it is possible. CSR has shown it. The rest can do it as well.

        Thank you for alerting me that I need to know more about NIH. I am always happy to do so.

      • anon2 said

        Anon, what has CSR shown to be possible? I hadn’t noticed that paylines were going up, or that investigators weren’t being forced out of science.

  13. writedit said

    CSR (but not the NIH) has announced Toni’s resignation.

    • bob snederson said

      What do you mean?. Nature has published an interview with him and his departure. Collins might be scratching his head trying to get him a new Lambretta.

      Hahaha…. I wish I did not have so much work with my Epigenomics postdocs harrassing me with the final draft of their paper… Toni, I would go with you to India

      • AH said

        Writedit is right. The announcement that he’s resigned and will be departing in September is at CSR website. The strange thing though is that nobody is welcoming (his photo at the Welcome section is not there). Which is good sign!. Now is CSR, as a 250 something team, welcoming until a new Director joins their crew..

        Hey Bob Snederson, I wonder if, by any chance, you just ran out with him to India and left your post-docs here (in boxers) working in their paper…. HAHAHAHAHAHA

  14. anon said

    Dear Anon2,

    You’re right that, unfortunately, pay lines are not going up and investigators are being forced out of science. It is of profound concern.

    I think that CSR is neither about pay lines nor about having investigators out of science. CSR is about peer review and the intent to identify the science that can energize and move the country from inertia to a dynamic interplay whereby the most privileged players (level of education and intellectual potential and/or achievements) contribute their best to improve the living conditions of this country.

    Your question has elicited two thoughts in my mind:

    1. Pay lines and putting investigators out of their science are not about scientific excellence versus scientific mediocrity. It is about MONEY and what, why and how the money is allocated and accounted for. It is from this perspective that all funding Institutes and Centers at NIH are about pay lines. And all those funding Institutes have the potential to be about recruiting and retaining the highest number of brightest and best servers in their academic/research enclaves and communities at large.

    2. CSR has shown that is possible to MAKE MORE WITH LESS. And this is a visionary reality because history doesn’t go back. That is to say that we have to be able to make more with less from now on. Just relying on Congress to increase the NIH budget to solve the decimating effect (of a troubled global economy) on science and the scientific workforce is the easiest and most unimaginative way of advancing social transformation. What about the other way around?. Showing Congress that NIH institutes are discovering management strategies to reverse the negative trends?

    I know, dear anon2, that my thoughts are ambiguous and part of the reason is that my instruments for observation are quite inaccurate. Those instruments do not allow, as of yet, to have feedback from the community as to substantiate and validate whether or not it is possible to make more with less. For example, I don’t know what the CSR budget has been for the last 6 years. Neither I know for the rest of the Institutes.

    Is it possible for all funding Institutes to make more with less? It would be worthy to test it. Maybe Einstein, who seems to know a lot about organizational and budgetary NIH, could help in designing the test. Maybe others in the audience can help. Using CSR as a positive control, lets see for example, how other Institutes taken randomly (e.g., NCI, NIA, NIMH, NIDDK, NIMGS, NINR, NCRR, OD) are doing in terms of

    – Total Budget
    – Budget numbers assigned to overhead and operational costs
    – Budget numbers assigned to individual Programs/Priorities
    – Budget Program/Priority in relationship to Achievements, as well as Sustainability and vice versa.

    Take into account appropriate/relevant normalization factors

    I think all this information should be in all NIH Institutes/Centers web sites for everyone to look at and have the opportunity to send constructive feedback. Because NIH is everybody’s business.

    Sorry for giving you more questions than certitudes. If this information exists and is out there, please lead me to the site. Thanks

    anon

    • einstein said

      The budget information you are seeking is public information, and readily available on-line, both via the NIH website and via a simple Google search. I’m too busy to run that search for you in order to “lead you to the sites”, but I would hope you could manage that on your own.

  15. AH said

    Thanks Einstein. So far, I’ve found NINDS budget in their web site, NIMH at HHS, NCI at their web site but nowhere to find the positive control, the CSR….Looking at those quickly I’ve found there is a great difference in the way of providing details.. I’ll wait until someone gives me the link to the control one. I am very busy too.

    • einstein said

      Wow. It REALLY is not hard to find. Did you even try?

      http://www.report.nih.gov/nihdatabook/Default.aspx?catid=1

      I’ll even hold your hand a little further …the second item on the list is probably the easiest for most of your questions.

      • anon said

        Your link takes to the NIH data book. There are no details on budget assigned to overhead and operational costs. That’s distressing. I was able to gather some information through Google by writing Institute FY2011- Congressional Budget. That takes, in most cases but not always, to respective NIH institutes web sites.

        I made a simple search/calculation. Total budget. Total salaries-expenses- Subtotal Personnel compensation+ Personnel benefits.

        This is roughly what I found for some Institutes (2010)

        Institute % Personnel cost/Total budget

        NCI 9.62
        NINDS 4.51
        NIMGS 1.01 !!!!!!!!!!!
        NIMH 7.1
        NIDKK 5.2
        NEI 5.4
        NCRR 1.36 !!!!!!!!!!!
        NCCAM 7.6

        I was unable to find data for CSR or for the OD. And that is distressing too. However, if my simple math calculations are not wrong (and please correct me if I am), the numbers speak for themselves. If there are Institutes that can make it with less than 1.5% to compensate their personnel, why the rest of Institutes cannot do it?. The numbers might explain some of the “extraordinary” events that have taken place at NIH.

        My questioning came up after reading that pay lines continue to go down and that grants with IS 27 and 10th percentile are being tossed out. It hurts, it truly does to hear that outstanding scientists are being forced out of science when one sees these numbers.

        Dr Varmus, I hope that you lead the change in those numbers right away. And I hope that the rest follows your lead for a change. Because to me, you have always been infinitely much more than a “No one”.

  16. […] writedit: CSR presser […]

  17. nostromo said

    Everyone I know in the research community is not sad to see Toni go. Also where did someone get the $35 million saved? The total CSR budget is about $100 million and most of that is is salaries. If you wonder why there has been no official NIH announcement of his “resignation” that should be a clue to the true situation.

  18. kanamisa said

    That not everybody is sad to see Toni go is a sign of good health. Leaders universally applauded are the ones “striving” in repressed, stagnant and ever growing powerless and impoverished communities.

    It seems that so far no Director(s) have been able to awaken and motivate their personnel to take on the hardest mission with less monetary compensation. There must be trophies (other than money) to venture for that CSR personnel have envisioned from Toni’s attitude. Maybe making more with less is best accomplished when there are ideals on the kind of excellence that encompasses and goes way beyond self-excellence.

    It is very difficult to speculate on why an official announcement has not been made. Toni’s statement that “6 years as a CSR Director is the adequate length of time” seems very reasonable and reflects on his idea of effectiveness in “bringing change and let it be ready to transform”. Maybe the official announcement has not been made yet because NIH leadership is contemplating that Toni could tackle another challenging task at NIH. At some point (I guess) the official announcement will have to be made.

  19. Rich said

    Scarpa was much disliked by his staff, reviewers, and program people ultimately responsible for administering grants. CSR lost knowledgeable, highly respected review officers with his micromanagementand Scarpa spent much of his time ignoring feedback from the field. His principal innovations have been an internet-based review program that is much disliked by everyone (reviewers, program people, applicants) except him, and having reviews in non-DC locations which are much loved by West Coasters, but few others. The moving of reviews makes it more difficult for NIH staff to monitor the review process for their applications. Phone reviews would work better than the expensive, cumbersome internet option. Scarpa has managed to alienate just about everyone and Collins’ apparent firing is much welcomed.

  20. To-Rich said

    HAHAHAHAHAHA ! .Are you a long-standing NIH insider well versed in how to protect established interests including self ?. Your assessment sounds kind of far from reality. But sure, it could be validated if you provided real data….

    • experienced with grant review said

      Actually Scarpa was much disliked which any one would know who ever had beer with an SRA during a review meeting. The alterations made in the NIH review process and study section structure were arbitrary and mostly made so Scarpa could say he did something. The study section reallignment did not seem to havea logical basis and were made because “Scarpa did not like study sections devoted to tissues/diseases” not withstanding that is how certain fields are organized. Further, most of the changes in the scoring system just confused the community at the same time that pay lines were dropping and the grant applications were greatly changed. I say good riddance!

  21. bob snederson said

    On 19 August, Scienceinsider reported that

    “NIH is working on a statement from Collins about Scarpa’s departure”, the NIH press office said,

    Is the statement out? Does anyone know?

    • k9 said

      Scarpa had a choice to retire or answer 2 inspector genl….first-class travels globally on Uncle Sam’s $, $10-20K bonuses to his favorite employees…no wonder paylines shrank and he had to leave in a hurry!

      • Ali-Baba said

        By principle I always travel low-key. So, I cannot even imagine what a trip for scientific review purposes costing 10-20K would be like. From what I heard when he was a Treasurer at BS, he is a lion on finances and a cheapskate when it comes to justify even reasonable expenses. So, my guess is that what you said is an absolute invention to further “decorate” the fact that he left CSR. At this point, who cares why he left. Let him proceed with his life and let’s move on!.

  22. DrugMonkey said

    How long does it take to type out “don’t let the door hit ya where the Good Lord split ya” anyway?

    • AH said

      Collins needs a competitive farewell writer. That’s all. So, it may take a while until he hires one.

      • Nonna Etourdie said

        Let the guy alone!. He’s up at 5 a.m., works 17 hours a day and then gets blamed and battered for every single problem at NIH.

        You ought to have a life Francis!. This is the word of the Lord!.

  23. Late for the party said

    Landed here through google to realize that I was totally late for the party.
    Interesting blog. Just a curiosity: in the Update, when clicking CSR, there is no authorization to see that page… What’s the mystery with CSR?

    “You are not authorized to view this page
    You might not have permission to view this directory or page using the credentials that you supplied. The Web server has a filter installed to verify users connecting to the server and it failed to authenticate your credentials.

    Please try the following:

    Contact the Web site administrator if you believe you should be able to view this directory or page.
    Click the Refresh button to try again with different credentials.

    HTTP Error 401.4 – Unauthorized: Authorization failed by filter installed on the Web server.
    Internet Information Services (IIS)

    Technical Information (for support personnel)

    Go to Microsoft Product Support Services and perform a title search for the words HTTP and 401.
    Open IIS Help, which is accessible in IIS Manager (inetmgr), and search for topics titled Installing ISAPI Filters, Authentication, and About Custom Error Messages.
    In the IIS Software Development Kit (SDK) or at the MSDN Online Library, search for topics titled Developing ISAPI Filters, and Debugging ISAPI Extensions and Filters.”

    Too much work to bother reading about CSR

    • writedit said

      Not sure what you mean … entering csr.nih.gov takes you to http://public.csr.nih.gov/Pages/default.aspx, which works fine. No mystery, no conspiracy.

      • Late for the party said

        The point was that having CSR highlighted in the Update (top page) only leads to a “non-authorized” warning and doesn’t take people non familiar with CSR or nih.gov to information of interest. Thank you for providing the link.

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