Senator Murray at NIH Budget Hearing: We Cannot Afford to Slash Our Investments in Lifesaving Research

***WATCH: Senator Murray discusses importance of funding cutting-edge medical research***


Washington, D.C. – Today, at a Senate Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies subcommittee hearing on the president’s fiscal year 2024 budget request for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, discussed how investing in the scientific research NIH conducts and supports produces breakthroughs that change patients and their families’ lives, prepares us for pandemics and other health threats, and ensures the U.S. continues to be the global leader in biomedical research.


“As Senator Collins and I have said from the start of these hearings, we are very determined to get back to regular order and make sure we pass the funding necessary to keep our families safe and healthy, and keep our nation competitive—and that simply has to include providing robust funding for the National Institutes of Health,” said Senator Murray. “Because, at the end of the day, what we get for these investments are really important discoveries that keep our nation competitive, that prepare us for pandemics and other health crises, give families more time with loved ones, and give patients hope for the future.”


“That’s not just worth the cost—it is priceless,” added Senator Murray.


Senator Murray emphasized that slashing funding for the lifesaving research NIH supports—as House Republicans voted to do last week—cannot be an option.


“After a global pandemic that brought the world economy to a grinding halt and cost more than one million American lives, House Republicans are seriously suggesting that we slash funding for lifesaving research,” said Senator Murray. “So if we truly care about protecting families, we need to understand that this funding is just as critical as the investments we make in our military, and we cannot forget the millions of families who fighting cancer, Alzheimer’s, substance use disorders, long-COVID, and so much more. We have to make sure our investments reflect the reality that illness is one of our nation’s deadliest adversaries and biggest economic and national security threats.”


At Thursday’s hearing, Senator Murray also pressed NIH Acting Director Dr. Lawrence A. Tabak about recent reporting that an NIH-funded scientist who, after facing disciplinary action for sexually harassing colleagues, was able to transfer his award to another research institution and then received additional NIH funding—despite Congress directing NIH to mandate reporting of such disciplinary actions.


“I have been pressing NIH for years about how to ensure that federal dollars are not flowing to researchers who harass or bully or retaliate against or create a hostile environment for colleagues and students and how to ensure NIH workers themselves are not continuing to experience harassment,” said Senator Murray. “So I have to say: I am really appalled by recent reporting that an NIH-funded scientist who faced institutional disciplinary action because he was found to have sexually harassed colleagues was simply able to transfer his award from one university to another research institute, where he then harassed a trainee in his new lab. And even worse, NIH awarded him a new $2.5 million grant. That happened despite Congress directing NIH to make it mandatory for institutions to inform NIH when scientists or key staff are removed or otherwise disciplined due to harassment, bullying, retaliation or hostile working conditions.”


“It is completely unacceptable,” continued Senator Murray, pressing Acting Director Tabak about NIH’s efforts to comply with the requirements and prevent future incidents from occurring. “What is NIH doing to fully implement the requirements under last year’s law that such actions must be reported to the agency? And how are you using that requirement to enforce workplace protections against harassment?”


Acting Director Tabak replied that NIH was made aware of the “greater severity of what the issues were” after the researcher had moved to the second institution, is now looking into the issue further, and said: “if these allegations are sustained, we will take immediate action as required.” Senator Murray emphasized that she wants to know how NIH is making clear to institutions and grantees that these behaviors are not to be tolerated, stating: “Because at the end of the day innovation isn’t just driven by programs, it is driven by people. And we need the best and brightest—and if this is what they see around them, we are going to lose them. So this is critical.”