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Audit: HHS Not Maximizing Authorities to Recruit Scientists

The Health and Human Services Department has been struggling for years to recruit and retain scientists, but the agency hasn’t made use of available avenues to keep them, according to a Government Accountability Office audit released last week.

The audit indicates HHS and its components—including the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Drug Administration—have not implemented authorities under the 21st Century Cures Act of 2016 that could boost pay for government-employed scientists.  

The audit indicates all three agencies—which are leading the government’s efforts against coronavirus spread—are challenged “competing with private industry to recruit senior scientists,” with some centers facing vacancy rates almost three times higher than other government agencies. Auditors said implementing authorities under the 21st Century Cure Act would allow HHS to add up to 1,500 scientists to the Silvio O. Conte Biomedical Research and Biomedical Productive Assessment Service; authorize the appointment of people with advanced degrees in engineering, bioinformatics ore related fields and increase top pay.

According to the audit, HHS “has issued regulations but not yet begun to use new authorities” for recruiting and retaining biomedical research scientists.

“The department is preparing guidance based on discussion with its agencies for the allocation of specific membership slots for each agency for recruitment and retention,” the auditors wrote. “NIH and FDA officials told GAO that after they receive their membership slots, they would begin their recruitment and retention process. FDA officials said that process could take up to 6 months until scientists are selected.”

Auditors point out that strategic human capital management has been a governmentwide high-risk area since 2001.

source: NextGov