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Memorandum on Ethics Survey Results

From: Exec Sec1 <>
Subject: Message from the NIH Director
To: All NIH Staff
RE: Update on Conflict of Interest Issues: Ethics Survey Results

This morning, the NIH Institute and Center Directors were briefed on the results of the survey to assess current NIH employees' views on the impact of the new ethics rules. I want to share the results of the survey conducted by an independent research firm with the entire NIH staff. It is the first step in a three-step process to assess the impact of the new regulations on the agency, especially on recruitment and retention. The next two steps of the process will include a survey of individuals who recently left NIH employment, to determine the role, if any, of the ethics regulations in their decision to leave the agency. We also will survey potential employees to determine if the new regulations might influence their decision to work for the NIH in the future.

The results of the survey of current NIH employees are posted at the Conflict of Interest (COI) Web site:

Major findings from the study included:

  • Almost three-quarters (73%) of the respondents (8,000 employees) felt that the new ethics rules would have a positive impact on credibility with the public.
  • More than half of the survey participants felt that the new ethics rules would have a negative impact on recruitment (56%) or retention (55%) of staff.
  • More than three-quarters of the respondents felt that the new rules would have no impact (67%) or had a positive impact (19%) on their career outlook. The new rules either had no impact (65%) on job satisfaction, or had a positive impact on it (19%). For the category of "ability to perform their job well," 90% of those who responded felt that the rules had no impact (71%), or had a positive impact (19%) on this measure.
  • However, those who have had to take action as a result of the new rules, and scientists as a group (the two categories overlap), had considerably more negative perceptions of the new ethics rules and their impact on recruitment and retention.
The Web site provides more detailed analysis of the results, including how the individual components of the new rules (outside activities, financial holdings, and awards) were viewed by the survey participants.

Although the survey does suggest concerns about the impact of the regulations on recruitment and retention, at this time we do not anticipate revisions in the regulations. We do, however, plan to proceed with the next two stages of the evaluation process. Of note, while these results are consistent with anecdotal evidence of a possible impact of the regulations on recruitment and retention, human resources data from 2005 indicate there has not been a change in the rate of resignations or retirements among NIH scientists over the last several years.

We are exploring additional analyses of the retention data.

An important finding from the survey was that the NIH needs to do a better job of making forms more accessible and easier to use. Although most of the respondents (92.3%) who completed the ethics training found it to be "at least somewhat helpful," the data also show that we need to strengthen our training program. We are addressing that need immediately.

I want to thank the entire NIH community for your attention to these significant issues and for your help in addressing them.

Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D.


This page was last reviewed on October 26, 2006 .

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