‘Not an Easy Time’
At the outset, NIH director Dr. Francis Collins put the meeting in perspective. Without ever using the word morale, he acknowledged that workforce spirit has been on his mind.
|Arriving at NIH, Cardin is greeted by Collins and Pat White (r), director of the NIH Office of Legislative Policy and Analysis.
||Cardin talks about concerns with institute and center directors in Bldg. 1’s Wilson Hall, before addressing a town hall audience.
“This is not an easy time to be in federal service,”
he said, referring to recent media reports about “comments that downplay the importance”
of government service. “Clearly employees
here have suffered through a lot in the course of the last year in terms of unpredictables—
freezes on pay, threats of shutdowns literally averted only at the eleventh hour back in April, concerns about a government default that might have shut us down again in August and constraints on performance awards. All of those are making this a particularly challenging time to be at NIH.
“And on top of that, of course,” he continued, “is the constraint in the resources that you would like to have available to move the medical research agenda forward, which we all recognize have been under considerable strain for the last 8 years since the NIH budget flattened. Now we see it actually diminishing in real dollars.”
|Cardin addresses a town hall audience in Masur Auditorium in the Clinical Center.
‘Sense of Calling’
In such a climate, Collins said, it’s gratifying that employees here always seem to recognize a purpose beyond that of the average workforce.
|NIBIB director Dr. Roderic Pettigrew (r) and Cardin chat on the way to the town hall meeting at which Cardin expressed hearty support for NIH, its employees and public servants in general. He said the public needs to understand that NIH does work “the private sector can’t do.”
“I understand that people who work at NIH have a mission that is of critical importance to our nation and that all of you who work here feel that sense of calling to do something to advance the cause of human health, and you do so extremely well,” he said. “Your dedication in the face of many challenges comes across to me every day.
“It is, despite all [the recent challenges], remarkable to me to see so much enthusiasm here for the science that you do and for the advances that you are able to make and catalyze,” he continued. “It is for me as your director a great privilege to serve here in this circumstance with such a dedicated team of individuals who see this mission as so compelling that none of these other things can get in the way.”
‘Don’t Pick on the Federal Worker’
Introduced by Collins as a long-time “champion for increased funding for medical research” and “major champion of biotechnology,” Cardin discussed the current political environment frankly.
“You’re under attack in Washington today—there’s no question about it,” he said. Then, drawing rousing applause from the audience, he added, “[But] the federal workforce did not cause our budget problems.”
He offered a brief history lesson about the nation’s financial troubles, recalling that 11 years ago, the U.S. had a budget surplus and was worried about retiring all of its public debt too early.
|After the town hall meeting, Cardin stays briefly to greet several attendees individually.
“[Now] we have a deficit problem that has to be managed,” he said. “[However], our federal workforce has already made the sacrifice—pay freezes. I thought that was wrong, by the way.”
Cardin warned his fellow policymakers and legislators, “Don’t pick on the federal worker.” Instead, he said, the nation needs to adopt a balanced approach to fixing its money woes.
“The very best remedy would be to create more jobs,” he noted. “The work you do here creates jobs. The work you do here energizes the private sector that creates many, many jobs related to the science done at NIH. You are a growth engine for our nation…Innovation starts at NIH.”
NIH Work Has Every Day Impact
During the Q&A period, Cardin addressed topics ranging from transparency of deliberations by the congressional supercommittee on the deficit to U.S. involvement in Libya, from potential consequences of sequestration (an automatic budget-cutting measure) to medical school loan repayment programs.
|IC directors including NIMHD’s Dr. John Ruffin and acting NCRR director Dr. Louise Ramm receive Cardin warmly.
|FIC director Dr. Roger Glass (l) catches up with Cardin following the town meeting.
Photos: Ernie Branson
In response to a question from Collins on how NIH can communicate better with decisionmakers and citizens in general, Cardin said, “For some reason the public doesn’t understand that they’re impacted every day by the work that’s done here. If they did, I think they’d be much more outraged when the House of Representatives passes a budget that cuts your work by 5 percent…The work you do here the private sector can’t do.”
In a final statement, Cardin once again pledged his heartfelt support for NIH.
“I’m so impressed when I visit with the institutes and talk to the people who are working here and the type of work you’re doing,” he concluded. “You really are our heroes and it is an honor to represent you.”
NIH’ers can find the entire town meeting online under Past Events at http://videocast.nih.gov/.