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April 18, 2018
Statement on the retirement of Dr. Richard Nakamura
With deep appreciation, I want to congratulate Richard Nakamura, Ph.D., on his retirement later this month from the directorship of the Center for Scientific Review (CSR). Richard has had an illustrious 39-year career at NIH (in addition to his three years as a post-doc here) and has played a central role in carrying out the agency’s mission. There is hardly any job more critical at NIH than administering the scientific review of research proposals, which accounts for a major portion of NIH’s budget.
Throughout his time at NIH, Richard stepped up repeatedly and took on a number of leadership challenges. He came to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in 1976 as a postdoctoral fellow. In the mid-80s he coordinated NIMH’s Biobehavioral Program and later was chief of its Integrative Neuroscience Research Branch. Between 1997 and 2007, he served as the institute's deputy director. From 2007 to 2011 he served as the institute’s scientific director. While at NIMH, he also held other positions, including associate director for science policy and program planning; chief of the Behavioral and Integrative Neuroscience Research Branch; and coordinator of the former Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration Office of Animal Research Issues. During his time at NIMH, he earned the prestigious Presidential Rank Award and other leadership awards for his extraordinary efforts.
Richard is a staunch defender of the quality of NIH-supported research, and has always done so whenever the opportunity arose — whether it was on Capitol Hill, at national and international forums, or with the media. For example, when NIMH’s basic research funding was questioned by Congress and the media in 1995, Richard coordinated a robust defense that led Sam Donaldson of ABC News’ Prime Time Live to say he thought he was investigating “the motherlode of government waste” but he found NIMH studies were “a bargain at twice the price.”
In 2011, when CSR was at a crossroads, I asked Richard to delay his retirement from government and serve as acting director. He agreed and then took on the directorship for another six years. During his tenure, Richard dealt with an historic increase in applications, multiple policy changes, and a host of other challenges, including the recovery from the 2014 government shutdown. Richard demonstrated extraordinary leadership abilities, guiding the center forward while earning historically high approval ratings from his staff. He implemented improved and more efficient review procedures; advanced studies of NIH peer review including the possible impact of an investigator’s race in review scores; created new venues for employee input; and increased training and diversity of the center’s leadership.
I have called on Richard countless times for his wise counsel, and he will truly be missed as one of the most thoughtful leaders among the NIH Institute and Center directors. I wish him great happiness as he enters a new chapter in his life. I know he is looking forward to spending more time with his wife, Sandra, and family, including his grandchildren and taking some trips he’s put off for too long. But he isn’t retiring from his passions that drove his efforts at NIH. He plans to volunteer at CSR to ensure some of the studies he started will be finished. He also hopes to find a new way to become an advocate for mental health.
Following Richard’s departure and while we conduct a national search for a new director, I have asked Noni Byrnes, Ph.D., to serve as acting director. Noni has served as acting deputy director at CSR since January 2018 and director of CSR’s Division of Basic and Integrative Biological Sciences since 2012. Prior to this, Noni was chief of CSR’s Cell Biology Integrated Review Group between 2006 and 2012 and the Scientific Review Officer for the Enabling Bioanalytical and Biophysical Technologies study section between 2000 and 2006. In the annals of CSR history, Noni will be praised for overseeing CSR’s successful review of over 20,000 Challenge grant applications for American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funds in 2009 and 2010. In this effort, she managed the activities of over 200 scientific, professional, technical, and support staff. I deeply appreciate Noni’s willingness to lead CSR in this transition period.
Please join me in congratulating Richard on his extraordinary career, thanking him for all his contributions, and wishing him the very best.
Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.
Director, National Institutes of Health