Environmental Factor, August 2007, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Council Backs Transparency and Stakeholder Involvement
By Eddy Ball
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/)).