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The PR Budget

Members of two US House of Representative committees — House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Appropriations subcommittee — are asking for details on how much the National Institutes of Health spends on public relations and communications, ScienceInsider reports. Those representatives include Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Joe Barton (R-Texas), Joe Pitts (R-Penn.), Michael Burgess (R-Texas), Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), and Rodney Alexander (R-La.).

In a letter, the representatives ask NIH Director Francis Collins about expenditures by the National Cancer Institute. They cite an editorial that appeared in Nature last month that expressed concern regarding the $381.2 million NCI spent between 2006 and 2012 on its communication and education office.

"The news comes at an already troubling time for US cancer research," the editorial adds, alluding to cuts made necessary due to budgetary sequestration.

The lawmakers indicate, ScienceInsider adds, that such funds could go toward a number of research projects. "With increasingly tight federal budgets, every dollar invested at NIH becomes even more precious," they write.

In the letter, the representatives ask Collins to provide details as to the public relations contracts, budgets, and expenditures for all NIH institutes and centers as well as ideas on how to contain those costs. ScienceInsider notes that NCI Director Harold Varmus has been looking into the PR operations there and that an advisory group is to report on the institute's communications activities in June.