Processes for Resolution of Conflicts in the NIH IRP

Issues Covered

Issues Excluded

Employees Covered


Resolution of issues raised under these procedures should always be attempted at the Lab/Branch level first. For those issues not resolvable at that level, several alternatives,either informal or formal, are available as detailed in this document. An informal discussion with the employee's scientific director (SD) and/or institute director is encouraged as the first step. The employee could approach the Ombudsman directly, if necessary, or be referred to the ombudsman's office by anyone in the IC, including the SD. The Ombudsman, if approached directly, may decide that discussions with the SD should be the first step, prior to initiating Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), and will so recommend to the employee.

If these informal processes are not successful in resolving the issues, or by choice of the employee, he/she may enter into the formal process detailed below. The first step of the formal process involves the Institute IRP, which will attempt to resolve the problem to the satisfaction of the involved parties. The final step will be handled by the Office of the Deputy Director for Intramural Research, NIH. There will be no appeal beyond this step.

Informal Processes

The method of choice for informal resolution is discussion with the Lab/Branch chief, the SD and/or IC director, or possibly the IC's ethics officer. The other informal mechanism involves the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). It could be used at any stage but is likely to be most effective early in the process and is to be encouraged because it can lead to effective and timely resolution of issues. ADR can be used when all the parties to the dispute agree to it. The Ombudsman will recommend the appropriate form of ADR, such as mediation, early neutral evaluation, or peer-panel evaluation, based on knowledge of the particular case. He/she may, after an initial discussion, conclude that the issue would be more appropriately dealt with in another office and refer the employee to the Employee Assistance Program, or to one of the offices listed above which handle excluded issues.

If neither of the informal processes results in a resolution within sixty (60) calendar days, the employee may pursue the following formal process.

Formal Process

Step 1: The employee presents his/her concerns in writing to the Scientific Director (SD). The employee is responsible for providing all documentation to support the claims made in writing, and for including in the request the specific relief sought. The SD may seek additional docmentation or information from any party with pertinent information. At a minimum the SD must obtain the written comments of the other parties to the dispute. While the SD may interview parties to the dispute, the parties do not have a right to a hearing or to examine witnesses. However, all parties to the dispute must be given copies of all documents submitted in the review. Furthermore, all parties must agree to maintain absolute confidentiality with regard to any information or documents obtained as a result of this process. The SD's review of the dispute must be completed, and a written decision issued, with concurrence of the IC director, within sixty (60) calendar days of receiving a complaint from an employee.

Step 2: The NIH Deputy Director for Intramural Research (DDIR) will consider an appeal of an initial decision when (a) it is based on demonstrable errors in fact; (b) if new information not available before is received; (c) a conflict of interest existed in step 1; or (d) the decision contradicts an established NIH or government policy. A request for reconsideration must be received in writing by the DDIR within thirty (30) calendar days of the SD's decision. Any party to a dispute may ask the DDIR to reconsider the initial decision. The party seeking reconsideration is responsible for submitting a complete record of the initial decision, plus a written statement and other documentation demonstrating why the original decision should be overturned. The DDIR will have thirty (30) calendar days to decide whether the original decision should be reconsidered. If the DDIR agrees with the original decision of the SD, that decision will become final and binding.

If the DDIR decides to reconsider the decision, the DDIR may seek information or documentation from any party to the dispute, and may utilize other procedures, such as peer panel review, to provide advice and input to the decision process. Parties involved in a reconsideration process are not entitled to a formal hearing or to examine witnesses (parties) to the dispute. The DDIR will issue a formal decision on the reconsideration within sixty (60) days after agreeing to the reconsideration. This decision is final and not subject to appeal.

Conditions that Apply to Both Steps 1 and 2 of the Formal Process

Office of Intramural Research---April 23, 1997

Questions? The Guidelines for The Conduct of Research cover many of the areas of conflict in research and training. For information on ethical issues not included here or in the Guidelines, please contact Dr. Joan Schwartz, who chairs the NIH Committee on Scientific Conduct and Ethics.

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Revised: 03/26/99