FASEB Responds to Criticisms of NIH Communications Expenditures
Created by on 6/3/2013 12:00:00 AM

By Yvette Seger

Correspondence co-authored by FASEB leadership and staff responding to the criticisms of the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) communications expenditures was published in the May 30 issue of Nature. Prompted by a series of articles in The Cancer Letter (also covered in a Nature editorial), criticizing spending by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Office of Communications and Education (OCE), Congress launched an inquiry into all NIH “public relations” expenditures. In its response, FASEB emphasized the value of communications to the NIH mission and stressed that reduction of spending to these programs would provide virtually no relief to the loss of capacity to fund research sustained by NIH as a result of sequestration, a decade of flat funding, and inflation.
In addition to the content of the Nature correspondence, FASEB would like to highlight the following additional points related to the inquiry of NCI OCE expenditures and spending by the NIH on communications efforts more broadly:

  • Many NCI OCE activities are in response to Congressional mandates or requests.
  • The NCI OCE produces many resources for cancer patients, doctors, researchers, and the American public, including: educational brochures; the Physician Data Query, an online resource that provides peer-reviewed summaries on cancer research, treatment, care, and prevention, as well as a database of past and current clinical trials; and toll-free phone lines for cancer information and tobacco cessation.
  • While some critics noted spending reductions at NCI OCE (by 34 percent since 2006 not adjusting for inflation), the cancellation of the NCI Cancer Bulletin in January 2013 – further evidence that NIH leadership continues to address mission creep – was not acknowledged.
  • Fiscal year (FY) 2013 cuts to the NIH budget due to sequestration (approximately six percent of the NCI budget) dwarf the less-than-one percent of the NCI budget devoted to OCE expenditures in FY 2012. Further reductions in communications and education spending will not greatly improve the financial situation of NCI or NIH, but may make biomedical discoveries less accessible to the patients, physicians, and the public.
  • This congressional inquiry came during a critical period in which the efforts of senior NIH staff members were diverted from portfolio planning to accommodate sequestration cuts to respond to the inquiry.

The value of science is exponentially increased when it is shared with and utilized by society at large. Therefore, FASEB strongly supports the efforts of the NCI OCE as well as related offices within other NIH Institutes and Centers, as communication with and education of the public is integral to the pursuit NIH’s overall mission.