Traditional Values Coalition, HHS Secretary Respond To Waxman Letter on NIH Funding for AIDS Research
The Traditional Values Coalition and HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson on Wednesday responded to letters from Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who this week had accused TVC of "scientific McCarthyism" for its criticism of more than 200 NIH research grants, including studies on HIV/AIDS and sexuality, the Washington Post reports (Weiss, Washington Post, 10/30). For several months, conservative House members have questioned 10 NIH research grants, including grants for studies on emergency contraception, Asian sex workers in San Francisco and women's response to pornography. At an Oct. 2 hearing on the grants, Rep. Michael Ferguson (R-N.J.) asked NIH for information about the public benefit of the 10 studies, Ferguson said on Monday. NIH Director Elias Zerhouni's staff contacted the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which co-sponsored the hearing, to obtain the list of the 10 studies about which Ferguson wanted further information. Instead of sending the list of 10 studies, a committee staff member sent a different list, including more than 150 scientists. The longer list, which includes more than 200 grants representing $100 million in funding, was prepared by TVC, which says it represents 43,000 churches nationwide (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/28). NIH began calling researchers whose grants were on the list as part of a report for Congress on broad categories of grants, such as "AIDS prevention," according to NIH spokesperson John Burklow. Although it came as a "surprise" when NIH learned that the grant list had been developed by TVC, the agency has continued its review and plans to submit a report to the Energy and Commerce Committee in about one week, according to Burklow, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. NIH has continued to work off of the TVC list because it is the list that the committee sent them, Burklow said, adding, "When Congress asks, we respond" (Russell, San Francisco Chronicle, 10/30).
Response to Waxman Letters
Waxman has sent two "angry" letters in the past four days to Thompson, urging him to defend NIH against TVC, the Post reports (Washington Post, 10/30). In one of the letters, Waxman said that TVC's list sends "a clear message to scientists ... that the Bush administration is prepared to attack leading researchers and sacrifice scientific integrity at NIH to further a narrow right-wing ideological agenda." Waxman also alleged that federal officials at HHS were involved in the creation of the list because some of the information included in the list is not available on the publicly accessible NIH grants database but would have been "easily available on internal computer systems at HHS" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/28). In a letter to Waxman on Wednesday, Thompson denied any HHS involvement but did not respond to Waxman's requests for information on meetings and communications between TVC and HHS officials (Washington Post, 10/30). Andrea Lafferty, executive director of TVC, in a letter to Waxman on Wednesday said, "At no time did TVC receive any data, direction or assistance from HHS," adding, "We spent weeks sorting through grant abstracts from the NIH Web page and we did it without a federal grant" (Letter text, 10/29). Lafferty also called for the Justice Department to launch an investigation of the grants on the list (San Francisco Chronicle, 10/30). The request for an investigation is the latest action "in an escalating war of words" between TVC and NIH and its supporters, "who see the attack as part of a larger effort to foist conservative religious values on the federal scientific enterprise," the Post reports (Washington Post, 10/30).