Below are comments we received for topics raised in the March-April and May-June issues.
On "The Shape of Things to Come, Part I"
You mention downsizing and possibly increased laboratory space as the number of scientists decreases. Among the scientists I come in contact with, there is a pervading feeling that although scientific positions are being eliminated, the number of people in administrative positions is not decreasing. Certainly streamlining government and cutting down on red tape should reduce the need for administrative support, as should the decreasing number of scientists that require such support. Are there any hard data that illustrate the trends to date?
-- Rachel R. Caspi , NEI
The issue you raise about downsizing staff and streamlining is the subject of "The Shape of Things to Come: Part II" [see page 2]. A short answer to your question is that each of the ICDs has been asked to present streamlining plans for administration that result in downsizing and more efficient use of personnel. These are mandated by the change in the supervisor-to-employee ratio and by the progressive loss in FTEs projected through 1999.
It is true that the first round of FTE cuts came close to 80% from the intramural program (only about two-thirds of our FTEs are intramural) because that was where FTEs were used on a temporary basis (staff fellows, experts, visiting scientists, etc.) and where there was the most turnover. A survey of different institutes shows that intramural administrative positions occupy 5-10% of total FTEs, so this is not a very rich source of FTEs, even if all were eliminated. Projections for the next few years are for up to a 50% reduction in control positions (many administrative positions fall into this category), with only a 5% reduction in intramural scientific FTEs, so the effect on administration should be obvious soon. All of this needs to be done very carefully because you may soon find that there is no one around to make it possible to do science. -- Michael Gottesman , Deputy Director for Intramural Research
On bureaucratic obstacles at NIH
The administrative obstacle that aggravates me the most is the three-month lead time required to bring a [Intramural Research Training Award] fellow on board. It is unclear to me why any domestic personnel action should take more than two months in this age of computers. Suggestions: 1) if the personnel system is not adequately automated, it should be made so, and 2) personnel should be centralized into one office for all of NIH. This way, we could have more people processing the paperwork and fewer people supervising the people processing the paperwork.
I do computer network services. That's a very fast-changing field, and procurement hassles keep us from getting things when they are needed. Procurement needs to be reinvented. So far, they are just tweaking it. Put some trust in the people doing the work. Rules upon rules to prevent a small amount of fraud are costing the government billions because of paperwork and delays.
-- Roger Fajman , DCRT
On "Bridges to Baltimore"
To quote, "Gazing out a window at the blue of the Chesapeake Bay framed by the steely glint of shipping cranes and the arch of a distant bridge, NIDA's intramural research center in Baltimore ... ." I am sorry, I cannot envision how large a window that is, or who or how one can stare out of a building in Baltimore and see the Chesapeake Bay. Possibly you mean the Patapsco River?
--Norm From Baltimore
It's good to see that NIH researchers know their geography as well as their biology. Yes, a bit of poetic license was taken in that reference to the water seen from NIDA's windows. A more precise description would be the Baltimore Harbor or a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, namely, the Patapsco River.