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Vol. LXIII, No. 16
August 5, 2011

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Want to know about some aspect of working at NIH? You can post anonymous queries at (click on the Feedback icon) and we’ll try to provide answers.

Feedback: This is a question about compressed work schedules and NCI’s requirements vs. NIH’s. NIH allows reasonable latitude for crafting schedules that meet the 40-hour work week and your position requirements as long as your supervisor agrees. I put together a schedule that met all the NIH requirements for my official tour of duty and it seemed to be okay for a while. Then an NCI auditor said absolutely not, we only allow a single compressed work schedule—the 2-week one with a day off in the 2 weeks in a specific schedule. No way could I do two half-days off or any other schedule, only the single one they specify. This does not jibe with the official HHS position supporting teleworking, flexible schedules and avoiding contributing to traffic difficulties. Given BRAC problems as well as the official positions, will NCI reconsider permitting real flexible schedules that are consistent with job duties? And why does NCI have a policy that is radically different from NIH?

Response from the NIH Office of Human Resources: NIH has two types of work schedules: compressed and flexible work schedules. Under both schedules, an employee is required to work a minimum of 8 hours on each scheduled work day. A compressed work schedule, by definition, requires an employee to work a fixed 80 hours each pay period on fewer than 10 work days. In contrast, a flexible work schedule allows employees to vary their arrival and departure time or remain on a fixed work schedule; however, credit hours can also be earned. So, the NCI auditor was correct in stating that you cannot split your regularly scheduled day off, under either work schedule option, into two 4-hour work days. NIH recognizes and supports workplace flexibilities and recently rolled out the new Telework Enhancement Act provisions to promote greater use of telework, to meet our continuity of operations, promote employee efficiency and improve employee work/life balance.

In an effort to give greater work schedule flexibilities, we are looking into piloting new options under the flexible work schedules. These new options can be tailored to meet the unique needs of organizations, as well as promote greater flexibilities to meet work and life demands.

Feedback: We are constantly hearing about budget cuts at NIH. Insides of buildings are old and outdated (especially bathrooms). Where then does the money come from to put in brand new landscaping and a fancy expensive driveway in front of Bldg. 12B? Why was this even done? The driveway leads to nowhere and the money could have been used for more practical purposes.

Response from the Office of Research Facilities: The events of 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombing led to significant security changes on the NIH campus including new requirements for government buildings. As part of these security enhancements, the roadway between Bldgs. 50 and 12 needed to be closed. Rather than leave the area as a vacant asphalt lot, a plan was developed to return the area to a grassy state as part of ORF’s responsibility for managing grounds and road surfaces and to improve stormwater runoff controls.

All of the water from the NIH campus eventually travels to the Chesapeake Bay and contributes to the health or deterioration of the bay. This greening project serves to improve our overall streams and waterways and reduce NIH’s impact on the environment and improve water quality in the bay.  

ORF takes into account a number of factors to prioritize which projects should be funded first. Because this project was primarily an exterior improvement project, it was on hold for several years. However, it was funded last fiscal year because it will provide an appropriate balance between physical security, emergency vehicle accessibility, reduced stormwater runoff and an attractive exterior venue for collaboration among the multiple institutes and centers that occupy Bldgs. 50 and 12.

It is always a challenge to balance project priorities, especially in these tight fiscal times. While recognizing that each expenditure must be thought through carefully, ORF still wants to provide attractive outdoor spaces for employees. The landscaped environment of our Bethesda campus is the result of many years of careful planning and maintenance. The campus master plan proposes additional projects aimed at improving the quality of the campus pedestrian experience in the future.

Feedback: Given the risks to human health described in the NIH 12th Report on Carcinogens, what is NIH doing to request that the contractors who run all of the food facilities in NIH-tenant buildings switch from styrofoam coffee cups to heavy cardboard cups, made for hot beverages?

Response from the Office of Research Services: The NIH cafeterias have been using styrofoam-free cups for almost 2 years now. As part of the overall efforts to reduce our carbon footprint and help “green” the NIH, the Office of Research Services worked with Eurest, our food services vendor, to replace all styrofoam cups with compostable cups. We are also working with the operators of our retail stores, Maryland Business Enterprise Program for the Blind, to find an economical substitute in their operations.

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