A congressional panel investigating outside consulting contracts -- and possible conflicts of interest -- at the National Institutes of Health has asked 15 other government agencies to provide information on any similar agreements their employees have made in recent years.
The chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the chairman of the panel's oversight subcommittee asked the agencies Friday to disclose the details of any consulting agreements their employees have made with outside groups since Jan. 1, 1999. They also asked for a record of the opinions of the agencies' ethics advisers on those agreements, along with details of any grants and contracts the agencies have made with those groups. Moreover, they asked the agencies to explain their rules and procedures for approving employees' consulting contracts, speaking engagements and awards received from outside groups.
"Our goal is to learn whether the practices we have uncovered at NIH also exist in other agencies, and to be able to evaluate NIH's practices in the context of general ethics practices in the federal government," Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), the head of the committee, said in a statement. The oversight subcommittee chairman is Rep. James C. Greenwood (R-Pa.).
The oversight panel said it has found several instances of NIH employees accepting awards and contracts that appeared to present a conflict of interest.
In one example, during the Clinton administration, the director of the National Cancer Institute, Richard D. Klausner, was declared eligible to receive a $40,000 award from the University of Pittsburgh. Ethics advisers told the subcommittee in May that they felt pressured by their superiors to approve the award, even though the university had just settled a lawsuit with the institute. They said that at least gave the appearance the university was rewarding Klausner for helping settle the suit.
Barton and Greenwood sent the requests to these major agencies and programs within the committee's jurisdiction: the departments of Commerce, Energy and Health and Human Services, along with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board and the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.
The committee set a July 2 deadline for reporting the information.