Francis S. Collins

Director, National Institutes of Health
Department of Health and Human Services

Executive Schedule: Executive Level IV - Presidential Appointment with Senate Confirmation

Major Responsibilities:

  • Run the Nation's premiere biomedical and behavioral research organization
  • Fund intramural and extramural research to help people live healthier lives and reduce the burdens of illness and disability
  • Plan, manage, and coordinate programs and activities of all 27 NIH Institutes and Centers
  • Support medical researchers across the US and around the world
  • Advise the President and help shape the federal medical research agenda

Key Competencies and Preferred Qualifications:

  • Advanced degree
  • Extensive background in health policy
  • Senior executive experience in government or academia
  • Medical research background

The Organization

Located in Bethesda, Maryland, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is a complex biomedical and behavioral research enterprise that investigates the causes, treatments, and preventative strategies for diseases—both common and rare. A part of the US Department of Health and Human Services, NIH’s mission is “to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce the burdens of illness and disability.”[1]

With a budget of $30.62 billion (FY 2012), the NIH is the largest source of funding for medical research in the world, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs by funding thousands of scientists in universities and research institutions in every state across America and around the globe. In total, NIH funds more than 300,000 researchers across 3,000 universities and research institutions, with 80% of this funding in competitive grants. Ten percent of that budget is allocated to the 6,000 intramural scientists in its own laboratories on the Bethesda campus.

The Challenge

The FY 2013 Budget Request for $30.86 billion, down over $1 billion from FY 2012, marks the third consecutive year in which the requested funding has decreased from the year prior.[2] Even with a third consecutive “down year,” budget cuts from the looming January 2013 sequestration plan will likely challenge the NIH and their many programs and grants. Director Collins told the Senate subcommittee that a 7.8% sequester would mean the NIH would fund 2,300 fewer grants in FY 2013. Collins said, “This would have across-the-board implications in both basic and clinical science,” continuing by saying that important programs such as cancer research would be forced to slow down.[3]

Collins voiced his worry about the budget in an October 2011 Washington Post interview: “I do worry, however, that young people also hear the message that resources are increasingly constrained,” and said it is a challenge of his to convey the message that NIH is sustainable, to continue to attract new, young scientists.[4] Without the new and up-and-coming young scientists, NIH and the medical community will struggle, which in turn will negatively benefit the health and well-being of the world.

Another budget-related challenge facing the NIH is Alzheimer’s funding proposed by President Obama in the 2013 Budget Request. The $80 million in proposed funding, new money drawn from the Affordable Care Act of 2010, has come under scrutiny by many in the Senate who feel as though the NIH should reallocate their own proposed funds from FY 2013 instead of receiving the additional $80 million.[5] In a field where funding and grants are the lifeline for research and development, a continued decrease in financial support will force the NIH will to become more efficient.

Responding to the Challenge

Despite these budget challenges and a basic “flattening” of support for medical research in the past 20 years,[6] the NIH continues to make meaningful scientific contributions for the advancement of America and the rest of the World. In his testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Collins said, “NIH is prepared to continue our long tradition of leading the world in the public support of biomedical research. With your support [FY 2013 funding], we can promise continuing advances in medicine, creation of new economic opportunities, and stimulation of American global competitiveness.”[7]

Even with less funding, Collins remains steadfast in the search for fundamental knowledge, and is “looking at every possible means of promoting science rapidly.”[8] Alan I. Leshner, chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is confident in the Director: “Francis Collins is a guy who can speak to top-notch scientists and at the same time has a tremendous skill speaking to the public and policymakers.”[9] Collins will need to utilize these cross-spectrum communication skills in order to continue raising funds for, and speaking on behalf of, the NIH and medicine.

[1] “Mission.” National Institutes of Health, NIH.
[2] “Fiscal Year 2013 Budget Request.” Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health.
[3] “Sequestration Cuts ‘Devastating’ to NIH, Collins Tells Senate.” GenomeWeb Daily News, March 29, 2012.
[4] “Mapping the NIH’s leadership DNA.” The Washington Post, October 19, 2011. <
[5] “Alzheimer’s funding draws fire at NIH budget hearing.” Newsblog, March 29, 2012.
[6] “Three Questions with Dr. Francis Collins.” Friends of Cancer Research.
[7] HHS Subcommittee Meeting, March 28, 2012.
[8] “Alzheimer’s funding draws fire at NIH budget hearing.” Newsblog, March 29, 2012.
[9] “Obama Picks Francis Collins as New NIH Director.” The Washington Post, July 8, 2009. ttp://
Profile: Francis S. Collins

Tenure: Dr. Collins was Nominated by President Obama to serve as the Director of the National Institutes of Health for the Department of Health and Human Services in July 2009, and Confirmed by the US Senate in August 2009.

Federal Government Experience: From 1993-2008, Dr. Collins served as Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, a branch of the National Institutes of Health.

Education: Dr. Collins received a BS (1970) degree in Chemistry from the University of Virginia, a PhD (1974) in Physical Chemistry from Yale University, and a MD (1977) from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

Academic Experience: Dr. Collins joined the University of Michigan in 1984, where he served as a Professor of Internal Medicine and Genetics, and as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.

National Institutes of Health Mission

NIH’s mission is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce the burdens of illness and disability.

Previous Position Holders

Steven G. Bradbury (Acting 2005 - 2007) Principal deputy assistant attorney general since 2004 and de facto head of the office during President George W. Bush's second term. Former associate at Covington & Burling. Graduate of Stanford University and University of Michigan Law School.

Elias A. Zerhouni (2002-2008) Fifteenth NIH Director. Diagnostic radiologist. Former executive vice dean, chair of the radiology department, professor of biomedical engineering, and vice dean for research at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Ruth Kirschstein (Acting 2000-2002) Pathologist and expert on vaccine safety. Deputy director and first woman institute director at NIH as director of National Institute of General Medical Sciences from 1974 to 1993. Tested vaccines for polio, measles and rubella. Helped mobilize AIDS research team in early years of epidemic.

Harold E. Varmus (1993-1999) Physician and cancer researcher. Shared 1989 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for demonstrating that cancer genes can arise from normal genes. Former professor of microbiology, biochemistry, biophysics and virology at University of California; San Francisco. Now president of the National Cancer Institute.

NIH Reporting Relationships

Department of Health and Human Services Organization Chart

NIH Organization Chart

NIH Website

This profile was adapted by Andrew Price and Jonathan Wigginton from: