Environmental Factor, December 2010, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
News from up north - the Bethesda office
By Aubrey Miller
As 2010 comes to a close, the newly rejuvenated NIEHS Bethesda office is approaching the celebration of its first full year of operation, its full complement of staff, and a long list of accomplishments.
One of the initiatives announced by NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum when she took office in January 2009 was increase the NIEHS presence in Bethesda, because she said at the time, "Out of sight can mean out of mind." Now, NIEHS staff in Research Triangle Park (RTP), N.C., can look back and appreciate the wisdom of her plan to raise the Institute's visibility up north.
NIEHS has long had representation in Bethesda, specifically for Congressional liaison work headed by Mary Gant. When Birnbaum became director, however, she began expanding the office to six members who work in a variety of areas to support and advance NIEHS programs, activities, and relationships:
- Bethesda office manager Administrative Specialist Lindsay Lloyd, formerly a member of the NIEHS Office of the Director in RTP
- Chief Medical Officer and Office Supervisor Aubrey Miller, M.D.
- Senior Advisor for Public Health John Balbus, M.D.
- Toxicology Liaison Chris Weis, Ph.D.
- Legislative Assistant Leanna Kelly
- Legislative Liaison Mary Gant, part of the Bethesda team for more than 20 years
The broad goals of this group are to provide outreach to NIH institutes and centers and other federal agencies, academic partners, and non-governmental organizations; represent Birnbaum and other NIEHS staff at required meetings in the Washington, D.C. area, including on the NIH campus, with members of Congress, and on various interagency committees; and facilitate and coordinate certain NIEHS and NTP program areas.
Highlights of the team's productive first year
Balbus, the first new face to join the team, serves as external liaison. He has been busy on a broad range of topics and activities, including managing and cultivating the Institute's relationships with the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and environmental health partners and supporters, and leading NIEHS efforts on the human health impacts of climate change and global environmental health. Balbus also convenes a federal liaison group to help disseminate findings from the NAS Emerging Science workshops and provide input into future activities, and functions as project officer on the Institute of Medicine Roundtable.
Along with Gant, Balbus provides a point of contact and information resource for the Friends of the NIEHS group, a coalition of non-governmental organizations and professional societies with an interest in supporting the mission of the Institute. As part of NIEHS outreach to the public health community, Balbus recently organized and moderated a special session on Social Justice, Climate Change, and Environmental Health that was led by Birnbaum. Balbus also represents NIEHS on the NIH Working Group on Global Health and the new Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, promoting NIEHS research and interests in these areas as well.
Miller joined NIEHS in April and immediately became involved in the Institute's multi-faceted response to the Gulf oil spill (GOS). His activities in this area include founding and co-chairing, with CDC, the federal Interagency Oil Spill Health Monitoring and Research Workgroup comprised of over 50 agency representatives, as well as testifying before U.S. Senate and House committees and partnering with NIEHS/NTP scientists and staff to develop an informational health and toxicology website to support the public health response.
Miller is working closely with senior NIEHS epidemiologist Dale Sandler, Ph.D., and the team as an associate investigator for the GuLF Long-Term Follow-up Study for Oil Spill Clean-up Workers and Volunteers, to develop the study protocol and meet with state and local public health officials in Gulf states to develop plans for medical referrals and implementation of the study.
August marked the arrival of Chris Weis to the Bethesda team. He immediately became involved in the GOS response, working closely with various NIEHS scientists and staff to organize and host a multi-agency meeting to address toxicological issues associated with the spill. Weis was also recently named to represent NIEHS as a co-chair on the Toxics and Risks Subcommittee of the White House Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Sustainability.
In 2010, Mary Gant continued to support an array of activities on the Hill related to environmental health, including testimony by Birnbaum before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the Senate Committee on Veteran's Affairs. Gant has provided invaluable consultation and preparation of Birnbaum for her participation in briefings sponsored by Pew Charitable Trusts.
In her role as legislative liaison, with the capable support of Leanna Kelly, Gant also helps to ensure appropriate and successful meetings between Birnbaum and members of Congress and their staff on issues related to NIEHS research and training. As a result, 2010 has been a record-setting year for NIEHS in this regard, with the most hearings, briefings, and calls for information ever, sparking a new level of interest in NIEHS research and its results.
Last but not least, much to the regret of her colleagues in RTP, this fall, Lindsay Lloyd made the move to Bethesda, with her usual confidence and capability, and brought with her the critical administrative knowledge she's now using to support the Bethesda office operations and outreach efforts.
An invitation from the staff on the Bethesda front
On behalf of all of the staff of the NIEHS Bethesda office, we are excited to be a part of the NIEHS family and look forward to better getting to know and working with our NIEHS colleagues in the coming months and years. Please feel free to contact us with questions, ideas, and opportunities in which we can integrate our efforts, and for any assistance we can offer. And lastly, we wholeheartedly invite you to please take some extra time to come by and visit with us whenever you are on the NIH campus. We're your NIEHS home away from home in Bethesda.
Aubrey and the staff of the NIEHS Bethesda office
The Bethesda office currently occupies temporary space in Rockledge, a few miles from its permanent home in Building 31 on the NIH campus. The staff will work from its new offices for a few months, while the old office is renovated to better serve both new and visiting NIEHS staff and visitors. The temporary address is 6705 Rockledge Dr, Building 1, 8th Floor, Suite 8048.