Monday, September 22, 2003
Rep. Joseph R. Pitts
NIH accounting We're paying for what?
The American people work hard. So at the end of their pay period when they see the amount that Washington takes from their paycheck, they should be able to trust their elected representatives to spend their money wisely. Members of Congress are stewards of that money. A steward is "someone who manages another's property." But as I look down the list of projects that this government funds, I have to wonder if that trust is being honored.
The NIH is the "steward of medical and behavioral research for the Nation" according to its website www.nih.gov. Congress trusts the NIH to use taxpayer money to fund studies and gleen understanding from research that enriches our lives.
As a steward of taxpayer resources, therefore, the NIH should be held accountable for how it allocates that money to ensure that its research contributes positively to the life of our nation. However, a look at the types of things NIH spends money makes one wonder what the agency is thinking.
The NIH is studying illegal behavior. In the state of California, the NIH has funded a study "commercial sex workers at massage parlors (Asian masseuses)." Prostitution is illegal in California. The state refuses to endorse a practice that demeans women and turns their bodies into a commodity to be bought and sold to the highest bidder on some street corner.
However, this has not prevented the NIH from devoting $3.2 million to studying the lifestyle of Asian prostitutes. Wouldn't the money be better spent on a program trying to end this practice, finding these women the care they need and helping them find legitimate jobs?
The NIH paying people to watch pornography. According to an abstract, the $147,00 taxpayer-funded study "will assess the subjective and genital arousal of 180 lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual women as they watch erotic video clips."
The NIH also hopes that spending $3 million of taxpayer money will help us gain insight into American Indian and Alaskan Native lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and two-spirited individuals.
Further, the NIH is spending $276,000 to study the sexual habits of older men, $107,000 to study "mediums, or individuals who regularly enter altered states of consciousness as part of religious ritual," $2.5 million on how to better promote the morning after pill, $26,000 to host a conference on sexual arousal, and, best of all $1.2 million to study giant pandas in the Wolong Nature Reserve in China.
I am not criticizing the objects of these studies. I am questioning the wisdom of using taxpayer resources to engage in research that has, at best, spurious benefits to our nation.
The NIH has the potential to engage in worthwhile research. Congress has seen fit to provide the agency with the resources it needs to carry out its mission.
However, shipping more than one million dollars to a nature preserve in China to study the socialization of giant pandas is not wise stewardship of taxpayer money.
The NIH is not alone in its waste of taxpayer money. We should also consider this issue in the bigger picture of the challenges our nation faces.
Americans have learned over the last two years that our nation has clear and defined priorities, chief among them being the protection of our homeland. Right now, the United States must devote the full resources of our nation to remove the threats to our nation. It will be a costly and time-consuming war.
That became abundantly clear when the president recently requested $87 billion to fight this war. I anticipate supporting his request; and I expect my colleagues to do the same. However as a nation seeking to combat an enemy around the world, and dealing with budget deficits and a sluggish economy, we must make sure that the limited resources we have are being spent in the most-effective way possible.
In fact, that should be our guiding budgetary principle at all times. If there are government agencies engaged in clearly useless activities, Congress should not hesitate to reallocate those resources to provide for the protection of the American people.
The NIH is not exempt from this standard. If it cannot or will not provide a clear accounting and explanation for how it spends taxpayer money, we should consider reallocating its resources.
Congressman Joseph Pitts is a Republican representative from Pennsylvania. (www.house.gov/pitts)
Created: November 29, 2003
Last modified: January 14, 2004
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