Basic Behavioral Research at NIH: A Timeline

1994: The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recommends an increase in training grants for behavioral scientists in recognition of the central role of behavior in health. NIH rejects the NAS recommendation.

January 1998: APS Executive Director Alan Kraut testifies in the U.S. House of Representatives on the 1999 NIH budget, raising the issue of behavioral science training at NIH and the lack of support for basic behavioral science. A conversation ensues with Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) on this issue, marking the start of what would turn out to be a decade-long effort by Kennedy.

February 1998: APS asks NAS to reiterate its NIH training recommendations generally and to encourage basic behavioral science specifically.

August 1998: The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee joins the effort, expressing support for basic behavioral research at NIH. The Committee’s support was reiterated virtually annually.

May 2002: Rep. Kennedy writes to NIH, urging the establishment of a behavioral program at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), known informally as NIH’s “basic research institute.”

June 2002: NIH Director Elias Zerhouni responds to Rep. Kennedy, saying NIGMS already does behavioral research. This contradicts NIH’s own budget charts on behavioral science, which have a $0 next to NIGMS.

August 2003: Rep. Kennedy, joined by Rep. Brian Baird, meets with the NIH Deputy Director and the Acting NIGMS Director. NIH asks Kennedy and Baird to hold off on submitting legislation to mandate a program at NIGMS until NIH can further study the issue. Zerhouni establishes a Working Group of distinguished scientists, including many APS leaders, to assess the status of basic behavioral and social science research across NIH.

September 2003: Senators Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Arlen Specter (R-PA) have a colloquy in the Congressional Record about the importance of basic behavioral science to health, and they call for a program to be established at NIGMS.

December 2004: The NIH Working Group issues its report, recommending that a stable home for basic behavioral research be created at a non-disease-oriented institute (in other words, NIGMS).

May 2005: NAS, in its quadrennial report on NIH research training, writes that there is “a particularly notable omission” in NIH’s behavioral science portfolio and that NIGMS should “incorporate” behavior.

October 2005: A group of nine members of Congress write to the House Appropriations Committee asking that the issue of behaviorial science at NIGMS be included in the FY 2006 Labor HHS conference report. It is one of the few issues addressed in the report.

May 2006: NIH rejects the recommendations of the Working Group’s 2004 report, saying in a report to Congress that basic behavioral science is doing just fine in the current structure.

July 2006: A majority of the Working Group members write a fiery rebuttal to NIH’s report, which they submit to Congress, saying that recent changes at NIMH and untrustworthy numbers make it even more imperative to establish a stable home for the research.

November 2008: Sen. Inouye, Rep. Kennedy, and Rep. Baird, growing impatient with NIH’s continued resistance, ask the new Acting Director of NIH, Raynard Kington, to take concrete steps toward a basic behavioral science initiative.

February 2009: APS Executive Director Alan Kraut meets with Acting NIH Director Raynard Kington, who discusses plans for a cross-cutting “blueprint-like” structure for basic behavioral research; Kington transmits this message in a letter to Sen. Inouye as well.

March 2009: During a Congressional hearing on NIH’s budget, Rep. Tim Ryan asks Kington when the new basic behavioral research structure will be in place at NIH. Kington replies that it’s in progress and to “stay tuned; you’ll see major changes.” With this statement, the new era for basic behavioral science at NIH is essentially announced.

October 2009: OppNet officially launches, with $120 million committed through 2014.

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