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Council Backs Transparency and Stakeholder Involvement

By Eddy Ball
October 2007

Dr. Sam Wilson
Wilson presided over the Council meeting. He addressed leadership changes at the Institute and championed a spirit of openness and inclusiveness. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Bill Suk, Ph.D.
Bill Suk, Ph.D., in his new role as acting deputy director (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Stefani Hines
Council members Joe Graziano, Ph.D., and Stefani Hines asked for more detailed minutes as record of the council meetings. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Court reporter
In order to ensure that every meeting has an accurate and complete manuscript as historical record, NIEHS included a court reporter for the first time at the September meeting. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Sally Tinkle, Ph.D.
Tinkle's proposal was designed to affirm the commitment of NIEHS to the mission of protecting public health. She described the Stakeholder Consultation Program as a way of engaging stakeholders and getting their input to Council and NIEHS management. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NTP Director John Bucher, Ph.D.
The Report of the Associate Director of NTP recounted the NTP efforts to address potential conflicts of interest for contractors. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

The NIEHS National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council conducted its 122nd regular meeting in Rodbell Auditorium on September 17 and 18. Chaired by Acting Director Sam Wilson, M.D., the group's deliberations and comments throughout the proceedings returned to the importance of transparency and stakeholder involvement in NIEHS operations.

In his Director's Report, Wilson outlined his priorities as acting director and addressed recent leadership changes at the Institute. Council members expressed support for Wilson's commitment to transparency in the management of the Institute and to outreach efforts to engage stakeholders. Council members also asked to receive more in-depth information in the future to help them serve more effectively as "ambassadors" for environmental health science and for NIEHS.

To the gratification of several members, including Lisa Greenhill of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, Wilson forecast an invigoration of community-based research initiatives as a part of boosting stakeholder involvement. Part of the process of re-visiting the Strategic Plan, he explained, will be an assessment of the relative priority of its objectives in the larger NIEHS/NIH mission of promoting public health.

Early in the meeting, members heard briefly from William Martin, associate director of Translational Biomedical Research, about the search for a new editor-in-chief of Environmental Health Perspectives (see related story(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/newsletter/ehp.cfm)). Martin, who is the selecting official for the position, outlined the "open and inclusive" process of choosing the new editor - a process that Human Resources staff have described as "unprecedented" in its efforts to engage interest groups within the Institute in the decision-making process.

Later that afternoon, Martin reported on the EHP Roundtable. Held on July 27, the roundtable meeting was a listening session that included 16 stakeholders, among them council members Stefani Hines and Ken Ramos, Ph.D. Attendees addressed budget and editorial concerns in an exchange that Martin characterized as "the start, not the end of building trust."

Assistant to the Acting Director Sally Tinkle, Ph.D., proposed a protocol for gathering stakeholder input through a series of independent "stakeholder consultations" that would be publicized and open to the public. Her emphasis on the report aspect of the process prompted suggestions from council members for translating information gathered at these consultations into specific actions that can boost stakeholder participation in policy and decision making.

On September 18, NTP Associate Director John Bucher, Ph.D., presented a report on developments within his group. In addition to enumerating the progress in work on alternatives to animal testing and reports on Bisphenol A, Bucher discussed NTP-initiated audits of contracts and measures to strengthen internal safeguards against potential conflicts of interest.

As the public session came to a close on September 18, four of the five outgoing members gave brief parting presentations - all framed by their unqualified support of the NIEHS mission and its distinctive character as the only "environmental" institute within NIH (see related story(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/)).

Jennifer Sass
Jennifer Sass of the Natural Resources Defense Council attended the meeting as a representative of the NIEHS Public Partners, a stakeholder outreach initiative by the NIEHS Office of Science Policy. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

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