The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) May 15 opted to postpone consideration of legislation to increase transparency about federal advisory committee members over concerns that the bill could affect the peer review process at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The House May 12 approved by voice vote the Federal Advisory Committee Act Amendments of 2019 (H.R. 1608), which would require members of federal advisory committees to be designated as special government employees (SGE). Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) introduced similar legislation (S. 1220) in the Senate on April 11.
Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), however, have expressed concerns that if the provision requiring SGE designation would be applied to peer reviewers, it would pose substantial burden to both NIH and voluntary reviewers, potentially slowing the peer review process and creating recruitment challenges.
In a May 14 letter to the chair and ranking member of HSGAC, AAMC Chief Public Policy Officer Karen Fisher, JD, acknowledged efforts by the authors of the bill, which has been introduced in past congresses, “to ensure that the bill would not inadvertently undermine the NIH’s peer review process.” The letter also notes concern, however, that the potential for unintended consequences remains in the bill the committee was scheduled to consider.
“As the Committee considers the legislation,” the letter reads, “we respectfully request that you engage the NIH stakeholder community to identify opportunities to avoid these potential unintended consequences while maintaining the bill’s commitment to greater transparency across the federal government.”
No timeline has been announced for future consideration of this bill.