The Capstone (Emeritus) Award is Already in Pending Legislation

May 07 2015 Published by under Fixing the NIH, NIH

In case you weren't already cynical enough about NIH's trial balloon at Rockey's Blog and the ensuing RFI (link to the comments is posted at DataHound), now the DataHound casually notes something really scary predictable.

As a further update, as first pointed out to me by @ChrisPickett5, the latest draft of the 21st Century Cures Act currently being developed by the House Energy and Commerce Committee includes a section about a "Capstone Award" (pg. 26-27).  

Which says, in the current version of the Act:

‘‘(a) IN GENERAL.—The Secretary may make awards
3 (each of which, hereafter in this section, referred to as
4 a ‘Capstone Award’) to support outstanding scientists who
5 have been funded by the National Institutes of Health.
6 ‘‘(b) PURPOSE.—Capstone Awards shall be made to
7 facilitate the successful transition or conclusion of re

8search programs, or for other purposes, as determined by
9 the Director of NIH, in consultation with the directors
10 of the national research institutes and national centers.
11 ‘‘(c) DURATION AND AMOUNT.—The duration and
12 amount of each Capstone Award shall be determined by
13 the Director of NIH in consultation with the directors of
14 the national research institutes and national centers.
15 ‘‘(d) LIMITATION.—Individuals who have received a
16 Capstone Award shall not be eligible to have principle in

017vestigator status on subsequent awards from the National
18 Institutes of Health.’’.

Which, should this pass, totally makes the Emeritus award a done deal despite the many critical comments offered on Rockey's blog and in the RFI responses.

Reading between the lines here it appears that what NIH specifically needed Congress to approve* was the LIMITATION part, i.e., the authority to prevent Capstone Awardees from serving on any subsequent grants as principle [sic] investigator.

I guarantee you that this was not some Congress Critter coming up with this idea out of thin air. The NIH, meaning with the full involvement of Francis Collins, asked for this. Which means they are steaming right ahead, absolutely regardless of any responses they got on the RFI.

 

I'm sure they will trot out some Executive Summary of the responses that is unduly heavy on the "pro" responses and dismissive of the "con" responses. Just you watch.

 

Thanks to the DataHound's FOIA request, we'll all be able to watch their pre-established agenda perfidy in action.

 

Pop your corn, folks, pop your corn.

 

__

*This is evidence of exactly what I mean when I express dismissal of any NIH excuses that they are not authorized to make some change or other. It is as simple as them going to their favorite Congress Critter and getting whatever they want inserted into the next handy bill. So when NIH says "we don't have the authority" the proper interpretation is to hear it as "we don't really want to do that".

 

26 responses so far

  • physioprof says:

    Which, should this pass, totally makes the Emeritus award a done deal despite the many critical comments offered on Rockey's blog and in the RFI responses.

    Not necessarily. This legislation says that the NIH "may" make such awards. It gives them permission, but it doesn't obligate them to.

  • datahound says:

    This is DRAFT not pending legislation. The House committee is working on it. It then would have to pass the committee, move to the full House. It would also have to have a counterpart in the Senate.

    I agree that it is disturbing that NIH is apparently pushing this, given the concerns raised from the community both on Rock Talk and in the RFI.

    With regard to the footnote regard using the lack of authority as an excuse, this is a matter of opportunity. Congress happened to be working on an NIH Reauthorization Bill (the last one was in 2006) and this creates opportunities to get new authorities. In general, it is difficult (and risky) to get Congress to create new authorities when they are not already working on such a bill.

  • drugmonkey says:

    This legislation says that the NIH "may" make such awards. It gives them permission, but it doesn't obligate them to.

    Yeah, and since they asked for it.....

    This is DRAFT not pending legislation. The House committee is working on it.

    ok, sure, so I may not have the semantics right. Point remains however. This didn't get stuck in there because some Congress Critter just suddenly realized this would be a coolio thing out of the blue.

    With regard to the footnote regard using the lack of authority as an excuse, this is a matter of opportunity. Congress happened to be working on an NIH Reauthorization Bill (the last one was in 2006) and this creates opportunities to get new authorities. In general, it is difficult (and risky) to get Congress to create new authorities when they are not already working on such a bill.

    I don't see how this is incompatible with my point. It is mere tactics. I am not suggesting NIH can just snap their fingers and make it so. I am pointing out that "we don't have the authority" is the same thing as "we haven't tried to get the authority". Which is the same thing as "we don't care to do anything about that particular issue, no matter what we claim".

  • Anonymouse says:

    Surprised that things happen behind the closed door? Nothing new. In 2009, SBIR was excluded from ARRA, through some night-time "conference" deal that changed the already approved legislation. Now, powers that be at NIH want these Gravestone Awards...

  • LincolnX says:

    Uberfockers.

  • Spike Lee says:

    Is this expected to be funded out of the regular pool for R-level funding? Or out of some discretionary fund? I would be slightly less nauseated if it were the latter. Slightly.

  • CD0 says:

    In any case, this underscores the lack of understanding of the administrators that pull the strings at the NIH. Same thing with the new bisoketch, which will officially kill the value of the biosketch as a document to quickly evaluate the qualifications of the investigator to accomplish the project.

    What is more irritating is that these initiatives all aim to protect unproductive individuals simply because they have been around for a long time of privilege. They all appeared to have been "pioneered" at a particular institute, as a result of the desire of control of its director. And for unknown reasons the entire NIH followed the same disastrous pathway.

    We badly need a change in leadership at the top level.

  • Kevin. says:

    I love the name 'Gravestone' award.

    We to come up with some snazzy acronym like MERIT or something that means something cute. I recommend using the letters RIP. "Research Incentive to Pasture."

  • Eli Rabett says:

    Everybunny may be taking this the wrong way. Think of it as an inducement to retire for the old folk with 30 year R01s. The point is that it is a FINAL award (as in Final Award for Research and Teaching). Of course it requires surviving 3-5 more years.

  • Grumble says:

    Who knew that the Hemlock Society was busy sponsoring legislation!

  • Ola says:

    I propose we call it the WANKER award (We Are Now Konsidering Early Retirement)

  • DMcArthur says:

    fascinating that the legislation writer doesn't know the difference between 'principle' and 'principal'

  • Noncoding Arenay says:

    As Eli said, let's call it the Final Award for Research and Teaching (FART). That would aptly describe everything about this award....hot air and it stinks.

  • SteveTodd says:

    For the riffraff EVERY award could be their FART.

  • toto says:

    This has been going around the Twitts:

    http://www.nature.com/polopoly_fs/1.17487!/menu/main/topColumns/topLeftColumn/pdf/521020a.pdf

    Apparently, in Japan and Germany, when you retire, your entire department MUST close down? As in, everyone out and look for a job elsewhere? You can't hand it over to another PI ??

  • Dennis Eckmeier says:

    @toto: yes. so? turnover and renewal, as it should be. But it's actually not 100% true. I've seen department leaders retire with a successor in place, if the department is a group of labs. Not so, of course, for individual labs. And guess what, the Head of the department and the dean made sure all this was done, BEFORE the retirement.

    Because in Germany they have forced retirement (with max 2 years extension), everybody involved can make arrangements IN TIME. You don't join a 64 y/o as a postdoc or graduate student, if there is no mechanism for transition planned out, etc, etc. All these things automatically help the PI to prepare transition IN TIME.

    If people let their lab run full power with no mentioning to interviewees when they retire, or not even planning retirement until a year before they leave, then that's straight up INCOMPETENT. My PhD adviser retired and his boss (department head) retired within 1-2 years after my graduation. Everything was taken care of, no need to use additional funding for this, before I even left.

    The whole idea, to me, sounds like a confession that there are way too many myopic old professors in place who are incapable of long-term planning. And this is facilitated by the US policy that tenured professors can retire whenever, so they never make arrangements.

    The fact that people seriously think one needs an extra grant on top of the ones they already have to 'transition into retirement' is UNBELIEVABLE to me. MADNESS.

    I. CAN'T. EVEN.

  • Eli Rabett says:

    Toto, at least in physics and chemistry, groups in Germany include scientists who have civil service status. They simply continue on but may have to change the direction of their research. There are others who have a contract for a fixed time. They can continue to the end of the contract or be extended.

  • gingerest says:

    This sounds like a bribe to get the oldies to retire. Mandatory retirement ages are rough on older academics (I am certain being forced into retirement damaged my father's health and shortened his life) but I think they are essential to the system, and I think the rise of the adjunct is directly related to the overresourcing of the most senior faculty at the cost of departmental budgets.

  • Spike Lee says:

    I don't think this kind of award will convince anyone to retire who wasn't already about to go. If I were 65, and had a healthy research program, I'd just try to renew my R01. If, instead, my program were in trouble, and I couldn't renew, /then/ I might consider retiring, and look to a capstone award to provide a soft landing.

  • Micoscientist says:

    I agree with Spike Lee. I was one of the last grad students for my PhD adviser. His goal was always to leave "on top", that is with funding in hand. There would be no successor to his lab, he worked in a rather obscure sub-field. This was also the thinking of all of his colleagues of his generation, except for those who wanted to be carted out of the lab on a stretcher. And there were plenty of those as well. So for those looking to retire, this might provide a graceful way out. But is does not solve the problem of those who want to die "at the bench".

  • dsks says:

    "Think of it as an inducement to retire for the old folk with 30 year R01s. The point is that it is a FINAL award (as in Final Award for Research and Teaching). Of course it requires surviving 3-5 more years."

    I don't buy it. As Spike Lee infers above, the only folk who will go for this award are those who have already decided to retire anyway and/or those struggling to maintain Ro1 funding (for whom this would essentially be a Golden parachute). What incentive does some septuagenarian with >2 active R01's have to go for a terminal award like this?

    Isn't it enough that grant-competitive senior investigators have already captured a substantial block of total NIH funds as it is without giving an extra hand out to the senior investigators no longer cutting it or who have decided to pack it in anyway?

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  • damit says:

    Based on lurking Berg's document, I am pretty sure my postdoc mentor is one who is all over this.

    IDK....to me it's a tragedy to see a great research program all of a sudden sunset when the PI is finally unable by health or energy to continue. I am seeing that with the Big Dad, who has a ton of trainees who are now independent.

    I know the Big Dad is trying pretty hard to find a successor to continue things...and it sure isn't me, I have my own program and 1. don't need it and 2. aren't going to be in that role again, even for a while.

    I sort of think this is a good thing....unstated is how the new "junior" (which needs to be explicitly stated) integrates with the field. Don't want that to come after my program.

    BUT...it may be the only way to her/him and others like then to quit writing new competing grants and make the people who really have skin in the game take over. There does come a point where your credibility based on past performance makes you untouchable in review.

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