NIAID's Anthony Fauci

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Science  15 Jun 2001:
Vol. 292, Issue 5524, pp. 1990
DOI: 10.1126/science.292.5524.1990b

Tony Fauci may be the only scientist who has declined offers to run NIH by two different presidents—both named Bush.

Fauci, the 60-year-old AIDS researcher and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), won't answer questions about his visit to the White House earlier this year. But another NIH official says that Fauci has fended off an offer because he doesn't want to give up his leadership post at NIAID, the third-largest NIH institute. An arrangement allowing him to wear both hats seems unlikely.

Fauci confirms that he was offered the NIH directorship before —in 1989, by former President George Bush (Science, 17 November 1989, p. 880). “I knew the president pretty well because I had briefed him many times on HIV-AIDS,” says Fauci. That relationship made it easier for him to tell Bush père in person that he preferred to focus all his energy on fighting AIDS.

Still, Fauci's name keeps turning up on a list of candidates for NIH chief. Colleagues say he'd be ideal for this Administration: a Jesuit- educated Catholic with strong family connections to the Republican Party. He's a team player and a workaholic who routinely puts in 13-hour days, comes in on weekends, and sees patients every Wednesday and Friday in the clinical center. He also oversees the Laboratory of Immunoregulation, which includes five independent researchers and his own section, which studies the pathogenic mechanisms of HIV. His role as the leader of U.S. AIDS research gives him international recognition. And AIDS activists who once branded him a “murderer” during protests against government policy in the 1980s now embrace him.

Fauci's credentials with his peers are no less impressive. He's a trusted NIH insider, a 32-year veteran of NIAID who began as a clinical investigator and moved up the ranks in two hops before becoming director in 1984.

So just how urgently does NIH need a permanent director? Fauci himself thinks that the problem is “more perception than reality.” For one, he says, “the place isn't going to go to pieces.” The director's main job—raising funds—has been solved by the doubling drive, he adds, and the House, Senate, and White House are “all on board.” Although it would be “nice to have a permanent person” at the helm, he says, the current situation at NIH “is as good as it gets.”

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