Bill would establish a central authority to cover AIDS research funding

February 09, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The federal AIDS research program, long criticized by AIDS activists, would undergo a major transformation under a bill pending in the new Congress.

The provision is part of the Senate version of the National Institutes of Health reauthorization bill. Until recently, the proposed change has been overshadowed by the bill's major focus: establishing safeguards for the use of fetal tissue in medical research.

But the measure also would dramatically reorganize the federal AIDS program by giving a single office powerful authority over how AIDS research dollars are spent.

The proposal has inspired a strong debate between its proponents -- who believe that federal AIDS research efforts are now too piecemeal and decentralized -- and its detractors -- who argue that the change would create more red tape and ultimately delay the delivery of funds to researchers.

The bill would establish a new office of AIDS research, whose director would report directly to the secretary of health and human services, rather than to the director of the National Institutes of Health.

The new office would assume sole budgetary authority over the entire AIDS federal research program. The AIDS research budget would be submitted to Congress for its approval as one complete package, rather than as part of the NIH's overall budget, which includes research funding for myriad diseases.

NIH officials would continue to have input in deciding which research projects would be funded, but the process would be under the leadership of the new office and part of an overall plan, rather than the province of the individual institutes.

Moreover, budget authority for all AIDS research would rest in the new office, rather than within each institute, where it is now.

An office of AIDS research already exists as part of NIH. But it serves as more of a coordinating body because it monitors overall research by the different institutes of NIH, and ensures that there is no duplication. It has no budgetary authority. Its director is Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, a leading AIDS scientist who is also director of NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Although the office has no real power, Dr. Fauci wields considerable influence within the AIDS research community and the federal government, often serving as the government's spokesman for AIDS research.

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