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Senator urges White House not to weaken research conflict rule

ChuckGrassley2-260.jpgThe US Senate’s leading advocate for government transparency wrote today to the White House’s budget office, demanding that it protect a proposed rule that would obligate universities to post their publicly-funded biomedical researchers’ financial conflicts on a publicly accessible website.

“The public’s business should be public… I urge OMB to follow through and approve a rule that includes a publicly available website,” Senator Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa (pictured), wrote in in this letter to Jacob Lew, the director of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Grassley also demanded copies of “all records, including calendar entries,” of meetings on the rule attending by Cass Sunstein, the leading OMB official negotiating the rule with the National Institutes of Health (NIH). He asked for such records since May, 2010, when the Department of Health and Human Services, NIH’s parent agency, published its proposed rule, “in order to understand why OMB appears to have concluded that weakening the HHS proposed conflict of interest rule is appropriate.”

Grassley was responding to this story in Nature today. It reported that, in closed-door negotiations, the OMB, motivated by a January, 2011 executive order from President Barack Obama, has insisted that NIH backtrack on a proposed requirement that universities and medical schools create websites that would post on-line the details of the financial conflicts of their NIH-funded researchers.

The requirement that institutions make such details public is still in place, according to a government official familiar with the negotiations between NIH and OMB, but universities and medical schools can choose the method they use to make the conflicts public.

The change, Grassley wrote, “flies in the face of President Obama’s call for more transparency in the government.”

When it first proposed the rule, the department called the website requirement “an important and significant new requirement to help the biomedical and behavioral research community monitor the integrity and credibility of [publicly] funded research and underscore our commitment to fostering transparency, accountability, and public trust.”

Grassley’s accompanying press release is here. In the letter, he asked for a response from OMB by August 25.

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