FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT
Margaret Snyder, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) coordinator in the Office of Extramural Research at the NIH, noted that the NIH has a long history of transparency. As early as the 1950s, the NIH produced public booklets about its grant awards, listing the grants, institutions, investigators, and amount of funding. In 1998, the Computer Retrieval of Information on Scientific Projects (CRISP) database was launched, providing the same basic information as well as abstracts. The database could be searched for trends, techniques, specific projects, or particular investigators. Continuing this tradition of transparency, in September 2009, the NIH launched Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (RePORTER), the newest searchable database incorporating all of the information in the CRISP system as well as publications and patents.
One question that often comes up is how much the NIH spends on animal research. Although it is not possible to disaggregate the budgets to identify money spent on animal research for individual projects, it is possible to get a sense through Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) information. Snyder calculated that about 47 percent of NIHfunded grants have an animal research-based component. This number has been fairly steady over the past 10 years. Snyder noted, with animals being used in about 70 percent of the projects awarded funding through the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Snyder gave a brief overview of FOIA (Box 3-1) and noted that for fiscal years 2006 through 2010, the NIH received 6,055 FOIA requests. Requesters are seeking information on a range of topics, including health information for themselves or a family member with a severe illness. The NIH also receives a considerable number of requests from individuals at academic and research institutions, some of whom are looking for a successful grant to model their application after, while others are seeking data for a policy or funding analysis for a scientific publication.
The NIH also receives FOIA requests from animal advocates. Snyder noted that the number of requests to 6 institutes with neuroscience activities2 from advocates peaked in 2008; of the 70 FOIA requests from animal advocates across 27 institutes and centers, 35 (50 percent) were for
2 The six institutes highlighted by Snyder are the following: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Eye Institute (NEI), National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).