HHS Guidelines for Ensuring and Maximizing the Quality, Objectivity, Utility, and Integrity of Information Disseminated to the Public. I. Agency Mission


Founded in 1887, today NIH is one of the world's foremost medical research centers, and the Federal focal point for medical research in the U.S. NIH, comprised of 27 separate Institutes and Centers, is 1 of 8 health agencies of the Public Health Service, which, in turn, is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Simply described, the goal of NIH research is to acquire new knowledge to help prevent, detect, diagnose, and treat disease and disability, from the most rare genetic disorder to the common cold. The NIH mission is to uncover new knowledge that will lead to better health for everyone. NIH works toward that mission by: Conducting research in its own laboratories; supporting the research of non-Federal scientists in universities, medical schools, hospitals, and research institutions throughout the country and abroad; assisting in the training of research investigators; and promoting communication of medical and health sciences information.

More than 80% of NIH’s funding supports non-Federal researchers working in universities, medical centers, hospitals, and research institutions throughout the country and abroad (collectively referred to as extramural research), and about 10 percent is allocated to in-house research laboratories located on the NIH campus and several off-campus sites (referred to as intramural research). NIH has approximately 18,000 employees, approximately 3,000 of which have doctoral or medical degrees.

It is NIH policy to make available to the public the results and accomplishments derived from the activities that it funds. Therefore, NIH-funded intramural and extramural investigators are expected to make the results and accomplishments of their activities available to the research community and to the public at large, and to effect their timely transfer to industry for commercialization.

  1. NIH Policy Issuances

    NIH is organized into Institutes and Centers (ICs), each with its own mission and functions, separate appropriations, and statutory authorities. Although these ICs may have different administrative procedures in place, they operate under the same general NIH policies and requirements. The NIH Policy Manual System is the formal mechanism for issuing NIH policy. The system is comprised of a series of NIH Manual Chapters. It provides an organized, central repository of information that is accessible to all NIH employees. Individual IC's have the flexibility to incorporate the quality and accountability requirements of Federal and NIH guidelines into their own information resource management and administrative practices in the most applicable manner.

  2. Responsible Official

    At NIH, the Associate Director for Communications, who is also the Director of the Office of Communications and Public Liaison (OCPL) in the Office of the Director, has the responsibility for implementing the NIH Information Quality Guidelines, while the Office of Science Policy (OSP), will have overall responsibility for implementing the Guidelines, and will work collaboratively with the ICs. OSP is the central office for policy related issues at NIH. As such, they have taken the lead across the NIH for Information Quality, as it relates to NIH programs, issues, and accomplishments to the public and public interest groups and, to a lesser extent, to the scientific community and the medical professions. The OSP, is also the point of contact is between the ICs and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs in the HHS. The OCPL, is the coordinating office or central source for NIH IC matters related to publications, including printing, HHS/PHS/NIH clearance and review procedures, Joint Committee on Printing, U.S. Congress, and Government Printing Office printing and binding regulations, and copyright rules. Among its many activities, the office produces and distributes a number of publications that highlight NIH research results and scientific advances; provides print, radio, and TV coverage of NIH news and activities; produces the NIH Record; and publishes consumer health information, primarily in a newsletter for the press and public entitled The NIH Word on Health. OCPL also supports and coordinates the principal NIH Web site (www.nih.gov) with direct responsibility for several major areas of the NIH home page that address the special needs of healthcare professionals, patients, members of the press, the public, and employees. It manages the NIH Web Coordinating Committee that provides leadership for the design and content of the NIH Web site, including reviewing new Web sites before they are integrated into the structure of the NIH home page; works with other relevant offices and committees in establishing operational standards and guidelines for Web sites at NIH; and manages the responses to electronic mail sent to the NIH home page.

    It is likely that any formal complaint regarding information quality will go first to the IC or Office responsible for originating the information. It is therefore essential that the relevant components of NIH work cooperatively with OCPL and OSP to ensure a timely and appropriate response to any complaints.

    As the lead offices for NIH Information Quality, OCPL and OSP responsibilities include:

    1. Developing policies and procedures to effectively meet the requirements of the OMB Information Quality Guidelines;
    2. Providing information and/or training to NIH staff on their responsibilities in meeting Federal requirements and NIH policies on ensuring the quality of information disseminated to the public;
    3. Assisting in the review of information quality complaints;
    4. Reviewing the proposed IC response for appropriateness, and assisting in finalizing a response;
    5. Establishing a tracking database for complaints, with information on the type of complaint and its disposition and any resolution or corrective action taken;
    6. Submitting an annual report on behalf of NIH to HHS with the number and types of complaints, and the actions taken, in time for the HHS to report to OMB by January 1 (beginning in 2004);
    7. Posting on the OCPL Web site any further clarifications, guidelines, and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about handling NIH information complaints;
    8. Making available examples of typical complaints and appropriate responses collected from IC reports.