Created by on 06/20/2011

Through this issue of Washington Update I send my greetings to all members of FASEB societies as I prepare to move from serving as President to Past President of FASEB. My term as President, and the opportunity that it provided me to serve the federation, has been a truly remarkable and rewarding experience. I’ve been tremendously honored to represent you and FASEB in many ways and in many venues and wanted to share a few of the year’s experiences and their outcomes with you.

Sometimes even the hardest work and most sincere effort does not bring the desired outcome. Such has been the case regarding funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), but you have to believe me that absent our efforts things could have been much, much worse and could still get much worse if we relax at all in our vigorous advocacy. I don’t need to sell you on the importance of that funding, though we have presented the case again and again on Capitol Hill and to the general public through personal meetings and letters to the editor of local and regional newspapers. It is simply no longer true that scientists are not making their case, and I must tell you that you are recognized for your efforts in that regard. In the fall when we called upon you to contact your elected representatives in order to support NIH funding, more than 11,000 of you did so after receiving the call for action. Your response to the e-action alert was both gratifying and helpful in our advocacy efforts. Elected representatives know that scientists are busy. Knowing that you have taken the time to contact them carries a powerful message to them. They do pay attention even when you may not be fully satisfied with the results. I can assure you that our efforts earlier this year as we fought congressional efforts to slash the NIH budget by $1.6 billion would have failed had it not been for your calls and emails to your representatives. Please stay alert to further calls for action. There will be more, and our goal simply cannot be met without your remaining involved. If you haven’t been involved yet, please join our e-action list today.
Our support for NIH does not stop with advocacy for funding nor does it stop on Capitol Hill. In May I had the pleasure of joining other FASEB leadership on the NIH campus to meet with members of the Director’s staff and with several of the institute directors. Through those meetings we expressed our support for investigator-initiated grants, shared our concerns about some of the new peer review policies, and discussed our hope that clarity and direction will come from NIH on those issues as well as on the new initiative to create a National Center for the Advancement of Translational Science (NCATS). I have personally testified at NIH on the latter topic and assure you that NIH leadership has listened and paid attention to the input we have provided to them. It is vitally important that FASEB leadership maintain our highly respected amicus status with NIH and that we use the liaison of our leadership in sending messages of concern to NIH. Messages to NIH must go in exactly that direction, not by way of complaint to elected representatives. Through FASEB we have effectively advocated before both and at every turn that advocacy has been tailored to meet the needs of our member societies. 
FASEB does not just advocate for NIH funding and NIH matters. Over the past year, as in prior years, we have advocated for federal funding of research across numerous federal agencies. For example, last spring I testified in favor of funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) before the Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, where I learned of the very strong and notably bipartisan support for federal research funding in general and for NSF specifically. That support was tempered by a warning that congressional leadership was going to have to find major cuts in other programs in order to provide research support independent of how much they might wish to fund the latter. Despite the warning the House did find a way to promote NSF funding in the 2011 budget resolution, but they will have to be similarly encouraged to provide funding for 2012 and beyond. Each FASEB funding priority is actually handled by a different appropriations subcommittee, making it necessary to repeat our message again and again, always reminding our elected officials that research leads to discovery and only through discovery can we arrive at new treatments and cures. In a time of economic uncertainty, it is also important that we point out that research funding supports local jobs, provides training for the workforce of the future, and helps educate those who will carry on science after we have left the scene.
It’s not just the economy and money. FASEB also remains actively engaged in optimizing the ways we can do research and the product of that research. In March, we sponsored a highly successful symposium at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to promote engagement of basic scientists in translating their work into treatments and cures. We have remained actively involved in supporting use of embryonic stem cells in research, another activity to which you gave your support through our calls for action. In addition, we will continue our work toward lessened regulatory burden in all aspects of research. Another area of our advocacy efforts is focused on promoting the humane use of animals in research and seeking ways to counter hostile actions toward researchers who do use animal models in their work.

As I leave office I want you to recognize that the organization, FASEB, which represents you and your societies, is now the recognized resource for information, opinion and advocacy for the biomedical scientist and engineer. I’ve been truly amazed at the number of times that reporters, members of the Obama Administration, staff and Members of Congress, and leadership in agencies that fund your work have reached out to me for FASEB’s input. That recognition certainly testifies to the outstanding job done by FASEB’s Office of Public Affairs, but it also represents a tribute to you, the members, who are engaged in FASEB’s efforts. Thanks for that effort and for the efforts that I know lie ahead of us.

William Talman, pictured outside the U.S. Capitol in March 2011, assumed office as the 95th President of FASEB on July 1, 2010. He is a Professor of Neurology and Neuroscience at the University of Iowa and is a practicing physician at the University Hospital and at the Iowa City Veterans Affairs hospital where he is the Chief of the Neurology Service. Photo Credit: Lawrence Green, FASEB Office of Public Affairs.