NIH developing trans-institute strategic plan

Advisory Council to the NIH Director reacts to early peek.

At its meeting on June 11, 2015, the Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) of the National Institutes of Health was briefed about the development of a new NIH-wide strategic plan.  H.R. 83, the spending legislation for Fiscal Year 2015, required that NIH report to Congress a new overall strategic plan by the end of 2015.

The development of such a plan is no easy task.  Each of the NIH institutes and centers has its own strategic plan, and there is a separate planning process through which the NIH Common Fund, a trans-institute stream of money, is allocated.  Should the NIH strategic plan include everything that is already being done?  What if it doesn’t include research that one of the institutes has prioritized?  How tightly would such a plan govern the allocation of NIH or institute resources?  The NIH stakeholder community, including the Science Government Relations Office at the American Psychological Association, are closely monitoring the plan’s development, although till now there has been little public information about it. 

An internal NIH working group is laboring to meet the December deadline.  NIH Director Francis Collins and Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak told the ACD that, after the first draft was discussed with that advisory body, it would be updated and made public to share with NIH stakeholders for their comments in July and August.  The NIH working group hopes to be able to incorporate those comments in time to share a new draft with the various NIH institute and center advisory councils which meet in September and October. After incorporating the input of those councils, the updated plan would be reviewed by the ACD at its December meeting and then transmitted to Congress before the end of the year.

The powerpoint explaining the draft plan shared with the ACD is not on the NIH website and has not yet been made public. However the meeting was videocast and thus available to the public, and is archived at The following information is based on notes of the ACD discussion.

The original strategic plan concept involved the designation of seven areas of emphasis:  Cancer; Infectious and Immune Diseases; Cardiovascular Disease; Diabetes and Obesity; Brain Diseases and Disorders; Human Development; and Chronic Diseases and Conditions.  Within each of those areas, research emphases would be laid out for Basic Research, Translational Research, Workforce Development and Enhanced Scientific Stewardship.

Given that the plan is in such an early stage of development, the ACD members had many suggestions about how the plan might be organized. One idea:  organizing the plan for research by level of analysis, from cells, to organs, to people to populations, and prioritizing research on normal and abnormal functioning at each level. Another idea: laying out the plan in terms of research on genetics, environment, and the interaction between the two.  Dr. Collins and Dr. Tabak promised to take the ideas back to the NIH working group and take a fresh look at the organizing principles of the plan. 

Dr. Tabak also pointed out that as the separate institute strategic plans come up for renewal and revision, those plans would be linked more closely to the overall plan, but exactly how was not made clear.  The individual institute and center plans can be reviewed on the NIH website.

APA will compose comments when a draft is made public for review, and will encourage individual NIH grantees, scientists and students to comment as well.  In addition, APA will continue to work with Congress on this issue. For example, do members of Congress hope to see specific areas of research emphasized or de-emphasized? As the plan progresses, we will inform readers at every step.

For more information, please contact Pat Kobor in the Science Government Relations Office.