Update: Collins et al. have added a post to the NCATS comment page entitled, Separating Fact & Fiction: News about the proposed National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (full text included below).
Second, the NCRR Advisory Council Meeting is tomorrow (Tues, Jan 25). The open portion will be videocast, and the agenda item of most interest will likely be from 8:30-9:30 a.m., when Larry Tabak presents the SMRB recommendation to create NCATS. Oddly, there is no agenda item about the dissolution of NCRR. Perhaps that is reserved for the closed portion fireworks display.
Considering Collins’ interview with Jocelyn Kaiser, the solicitation for input seems more than a tad disingenuous:
Q: What do the letters to Congress say? [Jan 14]
F.C.: That there is a proposal to create a new entity at NIH, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), and also a proposal to take the existing programs within the [NCRR] and distribute them around to other parts of NIH.
Q: So you’re going to no longer have an NCRR?
F.C.: That’s right.
Okee dokee, Francis. I guess none of the other possibilities you hinted at last month panned out:
Asked if the NCRR would be dissolved under the new proposal, Collins told Nature: “That is a possibility, but it’s not the only possibility.”
And what were the other possibilities, exactly? Well, clearly a moot point now in any case.
Somehow, I missed the part where SMRB recommended redistributing the rest of NCRR programs throughout the NIH. Or, wait, I guess there wasn’t one after all:
As far as the NCRR implications, the SMRB did not get engaged at any level of detail in considering that other than, of course, they recommended that the CTSAs [Clinical and Translational Science Awards], the largest program within NCRR, should move into the new center. …
Collins insists he could not seek public input on the elimination of NCRR until after he proposed it to Congress (but he could seek input on creating a new Center in advance of Congressional notification … not to mention the SMRB-approved merger of NIAAA and NIDA):
Q: It’s not making sense to me that you cannot consult on it until you’ve notified [Congress], but that means you’ve made the decision without consulting with the community first.
F.C.: Well [laughs], this is the government, remember. It is very clear in the legislation that we can’t actually make announcements or seek public input until Congress has been notified.
I grant you, that is a somewhat unfortunate circumstance. In my best of all worlds, I would have wanted to have the chance to have a lot more discussion about this before that kind of announcement.
Oh yes … giggle giggle … a most unfortunate circumstance. Collins goes on:
Q: Some people seem to think you need to keep all these things together. Why not just keep them within a smaller NCRR?
F.C.: I think you would tend to have gotten awfully small and maybe not even to the point of making a lot of sense. … You begin to wonder why have we created that kind of administration support structure for such a small number of programs.
Hello? Before the Great Zerhouni, NCRR staff had enough to do to keep them off the streets and out of the pool halls. In fact, IMHO, they are one of the best-run shops at the NIH. I wish more ICs looked to NCRR in modeling their administrative support structure. Willie McCullough and Esmail Torashvan ran incredibly helpful C06 and G20 application workshops and were unfailing in their support of the extramural community in getting these right.
Q: But if you kept them all together [except for the CTSAs], it wouldn’t be that small.
F.C.: I think even if the CTSAs were not driving this process, you could make a strong argument. For instance, the RCMI [a resource program for minority institutions] would belong more appropriately in the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities than it does in NCRR.
Can I just say my experience in working on EXPORT applications and dealing with NCMHD (now NIMHD) was at the other end of the spectrum from working on NCRR applications? Not that NIMHD does not have good intentions and folks who work hard to address health disparities, but good intentions do not represent the best management plan for hundreds of millions of dollars. (I did feel better when Joyce Hunter moved over there from NIDDK though.) Looking at their Website and logo, I am unclear even when their transition to an Institute will become final.
Anyway, according to Collins, it will be all over but the shouting by the end of February:
Q: You said last month that you thought you might be able to get some special permission from Congress to have 28 institutes for 1 year.
F.C.: And I didn’t even ask, because I don’t think it’s the right thing to do.
Q: What’s the timetable for all this?
F.C.: We need to present the straw model to the SMRB, which is going to be on February 23. There is within NIH a plan to have final recommendations about how to restructure by the end of February.
Wow. Redistributing NCRR. Apparently the right thing to do.
And so, according to Collins’ quotes in an NYT article on NCATS, is redistributing IC funds:
Republicans in the House have promised to cut the kind of discretionary domestic spending that supports the health institutes, and officials are already bracing for significant cuts this year. But Dr. Collins has hinted that he is willing to cannibalize other parts of the health institutes to bring more resources to the new center.
“There are some people that would say this is not the time to do something bold and ambitious because the budget is so tight,” he said. “But we would be irresponsible not to take advantage of scientific opportunity, even if it means tightening in other places.”
No, we would not want to be irresponsible.