Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson is on the front line of homeland security efforts, handling smallpox, anthrax and other critical issues. But that doesn't mean he's not also engaged in the critical struggle to control his sprawling fiefdom, to reach his dream of "One Department, One Voice."
To that end, a senior official at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), one of 27 branches of the National Institutes of Health, recently outlined very important requirements being imposed by headquarters:
"Effective immediately, every communication 'vehicle' coming from the NIH must have identifiers [words or official logos] for DHHS and NIH."
In English, these "vehicles" include all job advertisements, all ads for participants in clinical trials and all television and radio public service announcements. In addition, "The cover slide for all NIH presentations . . . all publications (including brochures, folders, bookmarks . . . and business cards -- yes, business cards)," the official said, but folks should use up what they have and then make the change in future orders.
There have been many questions about this policy, the e-mail said, including one asking, "How serious is the Department about enforcing this policy?"
Answer: "Very serious. They call Building 1 [NIH headquarters] about every infraction they see in the newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, etc. There were at least three this week."
The new policy, according to an Oct. 23 e-mail from Richard K. Nakamura, the No. 2 official at NIMH, to Elias A. Zerhouni, director of NIH, now means four levels of review for clinical trials ads. (This may be part of the new NIH strategy to streamline management.)
"We . . . convened an IRP [intramural research program] and Extramural workgroup to systematize the review of all future ads and implemented the review process immediately," Nakamura said, noting that "everyone is now aware that any future violations will be severely penalized."
Despite the explicit threats, NIH free spirits, perhaps spoiled by years of nonenforcement of a 1982 policy covering these matters, appear to be waging guerrilla resistance.
So on Dec. 17, John T. Burklow, new NIH head of communications, distributed another e-mail: "Subject: Clear Message from the Department.
"I received a memo from Tracy Self, HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, regarding a particular ad that had not been cleared.
"She ended the memo with the following paragraph . . . 'Please caution those who publish within NIH that they absolutely may not publish unless and until they have received written clearance from OASPA [headquarters public affairs]. To willfully publish without that clearance could result in adverse action.' "
Burklow cautioned that this applies to "everything from publications, press releases, newspaper ads, radio/tv spots, etc. If you believe you've had a special arrangement with NIH [director's office] or with HHS in the past on particular publications, such arrangements are no longer valid."
The idea is to give some semblance of cohesion to the department, said HHS spokesman Bill Pierce, a department that includes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and other huge agencies.
"We're a team," Pierce said, and it's important to do things like put the HHS logo on materials so the public understands what's up. "This is not a content review," he said, and "we never told them to pull an ad" or anything like that.
"We're Republicans, for crying out loud, we're not going to waste taxpayers' dollars," Pierce said.
What's more, there aren't really any penalties for violations, Pierce said, but people needed to be forced to pay attention to the policy. Otherwise they may "print things willy-nilly."
So maybe if the "vehicles" said NIH is a wholly owned subsidiary of HHS, itself a subsidiary of the U.S. government? After all, so many people may not know these things. Or maybe if they just used the HHS logo with a smiley face?
It's never easy.
EPA Makes Whitman Legal
Catching up with the times . . . In a Federal Register notice Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency corrected a legal definition of "administrator" to acknowledge that the administrator might be a her.
"EPA has substituted 'his/her' for 'his' in sections where the word 'his' was used," the notice says, and made changes in two other spots. Administrator Christine Todd Whitman is the third woman to run the place.
In Tradition of OMB, OII
Nina Shokraii Rees, former deputy assistant for domestic policy to Vice President Cheney, has officially opened shop as head of the Department of Education's new Office of Innovation and Improvement (that's www.ed.gov/offices/OII).
Stephanie Lundberg, who had been an assistant to Lynne V. Cheney at the American Enterprise Institute, has replaced Rees. Rebecca Davis, who was formerly at the Office of Management and Budget and recently married White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, is a special assistant in OII.
Banking on Mellon
Christopher Mellon, deputy assistant secretary of defense for command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I), is becoming the new minority staff director of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.