NIH on Congressional Hotseat

For years, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) lavished millions of taxpayers' dollars on The Coulston Foundation (TCF) though it was cited for nearly 300 violations of the Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) regulations by the Food and Drug Administration, and it had four separate sets of formal charges of violating the Animal Welfare Act brought against it by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Instead of holding TCF accountable for its apparent widespread violation of laws and regulations, NIH defended and persistently funded the facility.

NIH finally may be held accountable as it appears that the House of Representatives is examining the agency's negligence in providing grants. In March, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin, and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman James Greenwood, sent a stern letter to NIH Director Elias Zerhouni. The letter described the titanic support Congress has given to NIH over the past five years, increasing its appropriations by $9.5 billion to $23.1 billion. The letter went on to express the Committee's interest in "conducting an examination of NIH management and oversight of its federally funded research." The letter requested specific information of NIH including the following: "During one of the Committee's investigations last year, the Committee became aware that NIH was providing grants to the Coulston Foundation (TCF), a registered animal research facility in Alamagordo, New Mexico that has recently declared bankruptcy. In addition to TCF's poor financial health, the Food and Drug Administration and United States Department of Agriculture had cited TCF for violations of various regulations. Please provide a copy of all files relating to TCF maintained by the grants management and program officers who have overseen NIH grants to TCF. Include documentation of all notifications NIH received about TCF's violations of regulations or statutes by federal or state agencies." There likely will be an oversight hearing held after the Committee reviews the material supplied by NIH. The investigation should address NIH's failure to withhold financial support to institutions that flout the law. Coulston is not the only facility to have distinguished itself in this manner.