September 19, 2018

Additional Information on Sexual Harassment Policy at NIH

Today the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced a new policy that goes beyond prior frameworks and requires its awardee organizations to report findings and determinations of sexual harassment directly to the NSF.  Legal constraints that apply differently to NSF and NIH currently prevent NIH from immediate implementation of an identical policy.  A rulemaking process would be needed to determine if NIH can require the same responses from our awardee organizations.  

Earlier this week I issued a statement that describes NIH’s commitment to address sexual harassment wherever NIH-funded activities take place.  To be more transparent about our efforts, NIH launched a new, central webpage that collects all of the materials for our anti-sexual harassment program. This includes clarification of our policies, both for extramural grantee institutions and for NIH staff, including the intramural scientific workforce, where we have a direct employer-employee relationship. In that latter regard, I have additional steps to report: NIH has developed a Federal Register Notice, outlining the terms of a comprehensive NIH Policy Manual Chapter — Preventing and Addressing Harassment and Inappropriate Conduct. The “public inspection” version is available for review in advance of tomorrow’s official posting. This Manual Chapter, to which all NIH staff are required to adhere, provides straightforward guidance for NIH staff — including clear definitions, procedures, and responsibilities for all affected parties. The Federal Register Notice also addresses NIH’s Policy Statement on Personal Relationships in the Workplace, which states that personal relationships in the intramural program (including romantic and/or sexual) between individuals in inherently unequal positions of power may be inappropriate in the workplace, are strongly discouraged, and must be disclosed.  By this posting in the Federal Register, NIH also encourages organizations receiving NIH funds to have in place similarly rigorous policies and related procedures for their employees, contractors, trainees, and fellows who engage in agency-funded activities.

The new NSF policy extends the oversight process by requiring grantee institutions to notify NSF of findings of harassment, or the cause for an administrative leave for a principal investigator (PI) or co-PI.  Ideally, all granting agencies of the U.S. government that support scientific research should adopt consistent approaches to the problem of sexual harassment.  As co-chairs of the National Science and Technology Council Committee on Science, Dr. France Córdova of NSF and I will work with that group with the goal of identifying and implementing uniform measures across the government that would be most effective in changing the pervasive culture of sexual harassment in science.  Finally, to help guide NIH’s plans and decisions in this critically important issue, I will establish a working group of my Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) to help guide NIH’s role in oversight.  The group will consist of both extramural and intramural experts, and will be charged at the next ACD meeting in December.

The entire biomedical research community must work together to put an end to sexual harassment in science. I know I can count on the NIH and our extramural community to work together to meet this challenge. 

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.
Director, National Institutes of Health