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Official: NIH still fails to report on incomes

Thursday, February 26, 2004

The request about the consulting money was made back in December.
WASHINGTON -- The National Institutes of Health has not yet reported to Congress how much money its scientists have made consulting for drug companies despite a request made more than two months ago, a subcommittee chairman complained Wednesday.
Rep. James C. Greenwood, R-Pa., chairman of the House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, asked Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson for his assistance in forcing disclosure.
"To date, the committee has not yet received dollar amounts for any of the consulting arrangements," Greenwood wrote in a letter to Thompson, adding that records handed over by NIH last month fell far short of what he had sought on behalf of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
When request was made
Greenwood and the then-chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee first requested financial details of the consulting deals Dec. 8 in a letter to the NIH's director, Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni. The congressmen wrote that their request was based on a report that appeared the previous day in the Los Angeles Times, documenting payments of company stock options and consulting fees to government scientists totaling millions of dollars.
The Times also reported that more than 94 percent of the top-paid employees at NIH were not required to publicly disclose outside consulting income.
In Wednesday's letter, Greenwood quoted from a Jan. 27 directive to NIH ethics officers from Edgar M. Swindell, associate general counsel for ethics at the Health and Human Services Department:
"Eliciting the dollar amount is relevant for determining whether the compensation is so excessive or disproportionate to the time expended as to suggest, for example, that public office is being used for private gain."
Greenwood added that he and Zerhouni had discovered that the NIH had not required scientists to report the type or amount of compensation they would receive on forms seeking permission to engage in outside consulting.
Greenwood asked Thompson to spur "all NIH employees to provide dollar amounts for any past consulting arrangement since January 1, 1999."
Greenwood requested that the information be turned over by March 3.
Identifying income
Swindell's directive also said that "effective immediately," any employee seeking approval to consult with drug companies or other entities would have to first identify "the amount and type" of income or reimbursement to be received.
Swindell instructed ethics officials at NIH and throughout the health department to inquire about the financial details of past consulting deals.
"Employees will be required to provide this information if they desire to have their request considered or continued, and a failure to do so will result in denial of the request," he said.
Among the drug-company consulting payments reported by The Times were arrangements involving two institute directors, Drs. John I. Gallin of the NIH's Clinical Center and Stephen I. Katz of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.
By the end of December, Drs. Gallin and Katz had withdrawn from any further paid consulting with drug companies.
Greenwood, in his letter, also requested that by March 3, Thompson assist in turning over "All records related to any internal review or investigation conducted in response to the Los Angeles Times December 7, 2003 article," as it pertained to Katz, Gallin and four other current or former NIH officials.