Acting Leaders Take Over at NIH Following Collins' DepartureBy: Naomi Charalambakis and Jennifer Zeitzer
Thursday, December 16, 2021
For the first time in more than 12 years, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will be under new leadership following an announcement from Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, that he will step down from his director position and return to his lab at the National Human Genome Research Institute. Collins’ final day as NIH director will be December 19. Last week, U.S Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Beccera named current NIH Principal Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak, DDS, PhD, as acting director, effective December 20. As the search for the next agency director continues, NIH appointed Tara Schwetz, PhD, as acting NIH principal deputy director. Schwetz currently serves on detail to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy as the assistant director for biomedical science initiatives.
Collins is the longest-tenured presidentially appointed NIH director and oversaw the agency during a period of tremendous growth in both public and congressional support for biomedical research. “FASEB has been extremely fortunate to call Dr. Collins an outstanding colleague and valued friend throughout his time at NIH. His willingness to engage with NIH stakeholders, his remarkable ability to explain complex scientific concepts, and steady leadership in good and bad times will be hard to replicate,” said FASEB President Patricia L. Morris, MS, PhD.
FASEB honored Collins with its 2017 Public Service Award in recognition of his ability to convey the excitement, achievements, and promise of biomedical research to broad audiences through his exceptional public outreach efforts. The award citation noted that Collins’ efforts brought research into America’s living rooms on the Colbert Report, The Charlie Rose Show, CNN, CNBC, and National Public Radio, in addition to his extensive interviews with magazines and newspapers across the country, informing millions about the extraordinary advances in biomedical research and the critical role NIH plays in this enterprise. He also brought science to social media, including chatting with Astronaut Kate Rubins on the International Space Station, hosting a Reddit Ask Me Anything event, and conversing directly with thousands of his followers on Twitter.
In addition, Collins was instrumental in distributing $10 billion in funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, releasing a detailed five-year NIH-wide strategic plan to capitalize on new opportunities for scientific exploration, and has been a superb advocate for NIH on Capitol Hill. He testified before Congress more than 20 times and personally met with more than 200 members of Congress to make the case for increasing the federal investment in biomedical research. His ability to earn the trust and confidence of House and Senate leaders as well as powerful committee chairmen have been essential in building and maintaining bipartisan support for NIH especially during periods of great uncertainty, including devastating budget cuts due to sequestration and the 16-day government shutdown in 2013.
A desire to improve conditions for the entire scientific community drove Collins’ efforts to hire senior staff responsible for implementing recommendations related to improving the training and diversity of the scientific workforce, address harassment and bullying in science, and expand programs to help young investigators compete for federal funding.