ELIAS A. ZERHOUNI: BIOPOWER BROKER
It's a cold, rainy morning in early April, but things are getting quite heated in the hearing room for the House Appropriations Committee on Capitol Hill. Representative Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island is remonstrating against the Bush administration. The National Institutes of Health has been given $1.625 billion for bioterrorism research, Kennedy charges, but it is not studying how to manage panic-stricken populations following a bioterror attack. Kennedy is trying to bait the administration's top health officials, who have been called onto the carpet for the annual ritual of justifying their budget requests. Throughout the drama, NIH director Elias A. Zerhouni makes calm, measured responses, at times calling on Anthony S. Fauci, head of the NIH's antibioterrorism efforts, for his input.
Since he took the reins of the NIH on May 20, 2002, Zerhouni has often faced Congress--which he calls a "major, major constituency" of his institution. As the first NIH director since the terrorist attacks of September 11, Zerhouni has been responsible for the country's ramped-up research efforts to counter bioterrorism. He is also in the hot seat to account for how the agency is spending its recent dramatic funding increases, which have doubled over the past five years, from $13.6 billion in 1998 to a projected $27.3 billion in 2003. And he is the lightning rod for criticism of the Bush administration by scientists who allege that political appointees are stacking science advisory committees to hew a conservative line on issues such as sexual practices and AIDS.
This article was originally published with the title A Biomedical Politician.