Inspector general to NIH: You can do better

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Inspector General’s (IG) office has published three reports regarding the protection from foreign influence of research funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The three reports cover NIH’s policies regarding institutional reporting of outside sources of research support, NIH oversight of investigators’ financial conflicts, and the vetting of nominees for NIH peer review panels.

One of the reports indicates that the NIH has few policies in place to make sure research institutions report all sources of financial support their researchers receive. The report also finds that a majority of the institutions that receive funding from the NIH, and are required to have these Financial Conflict of Interest (FCOI) policies in place, did not have those policies at the time the IG’s office conducted its investigation. Finally, the IG reported that some of the institutions were not aware they have to maintain FCOI policies and not all NIH-funded investigators knew that they are required to disclose this information to their institutions. The HHS IG recommends that NIH improve awareness, monitoring, and oversight of the institutions.

A second IG report urges the NIH to regularly conduct reviews of its online FCOI policy, which describes how NIH-funded researchers are required to report their conflicts of interest. The report also suggests that the NIH consider revising its FCOI policy to address current international conflicts of interest.

The third report from the IG addresses the security of the NIH peer review system, particularly the process of vetting peer reviewers. Concern about the peer review system has been raised recently in light of reports that contents of grant applications in peer review have been passed to foreign countries. The HHS IG urges the NIH to update its review of applicants for peer review panels, particularly those who may pose threats to the integrity of U.S. research.

The IG reports can be found at

About the Author:

Kevin M. Wilson serves as Director of Public Policy and Media Relations for The American Society for Cell Biology. He's worked as the Legislative Director for U.S. Congressman Robert Weygand (D-RI) and as a Legislative Assistant for U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI). He has a BA in Politics and American Government from the Catholic University of America. Email: