In an email letter sent internally to all National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) personnel, its Director, Dr. David Schwartz, has announced he is temporarily stepping aside while the NIH Director, Dr. Elias Zerhouni, conducts an internal review of NIEHS and the National Toxicology Program (NATP), both of which have come under fire from congressional, internal and outside critics (see our posts, here, here and here). Here is the text of Dr. Schwartz’s email, as we received it:
As you know, there have been recent inquiries by members of Congress and others regarding certain activities and management decisions at the National Institute on Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Toxicology Program (NTP). Dr. Zerhouni has responded to these inquiries and is taking appropriate action to ensure that the issues being raised are reviewed and, if necessary, properly addressed.
Today, Dr. Zerhouni announced an initiative that commissions senior management experts to conduct a comprehensive review at NIEHS and NTP, focusing on the operations in the intramural, extramural and administrative arenas. This review, which will be concluded within several months, will address areas such as governance, internal controls and employee morale. In addition, this independent review will focus on personnel issues, contracts, grants, and financial management issues, as well as the administration of the ethics program.
To ensure the independent nature of the review, while it is being conducted, I will temporarily step aside as Director of the NIEHS and NTP. During this period, I will serve as a senior advisor on environmental health sciences to Dr. Zerhouni and will continue to serve as Chief, Laboratory of Environmental Lung Disease, NHLBI. Dr. Zerhouni has requested that Dr. Samuel H. Wilson, serve as the Acting Director of NIEHS and the Acting Director of NTP during the review period. Dr. Wilson, who is internationally recognized for his work genetic toxicology, has served ably as the Deputy at NIEHS and NTP. He will consult regularly with Dr. Raynard Kington, Deputy Director of NIH, regarding management and operation decisions. I urge you to cooperate fully with Dr. Wilson and provide him with the same professional support and courtesy extended to me.
Although this development is personally painful, I am committed to a full and comprehensive review of the management of NIEHS/NTP. I urge all of you to fully cooperate with the experts conducting the management review. I firmly believe this independent review will enable NIEHS/NTP to respond to the recent inquiries and ultimately provide strong direction for the future leadership and management of NIEHS and NTP. I am grateful to the staff of NIEHS and NTP who remain dedicated to the Institute’s mission of improving public health and look forward to continuing our work together.
The truth is that NIEHS, one of the best and proudest of the NIH institutes and the only one that has public health as an integral part of its mission, is a mess, with low morale and in a policy confusion. The temporary director, Sam Wilson, is an old NIEHS hand and we can hope he will have a steadying influence. Those of us who look back wistfully to the days of Dave Rall, the Director who brought NIEHS into the first rank of American environmental health science, would like to believe those days will come again.