Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Obama nominates Sebelius to be Secretary of HHS

President Obama has nominated Kathleen Sebelius to be the next Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS).  Sebelius is the Democratic governor of Kansas.

Comment.  What's the OA connection?  As far as I can tell, Sebelius has no public track record for or against OA to research, although she does have a good record on open government and OA to PSI.  The important OA connection is that HHS is the home of the NIH.  We haven't had an NIH Director since Elias Zerhouni stepped down last October, and we haven't had a Secretary of HHS since the regime change in January 2009.  Obama initially nominated Tom Daschle to be Secretary of HHS, but Dashle withdrew when the public learned that he failed to pay $140,000 in personal income taxes until after his nomination.  We have a leadership vacuum at NIH and HHS, and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) is taking advantage of it by pushing early and hard for his Fair Copyright in Research Works Act (a.k.a. the Conyers bill, HR 801).  The Secretary of HHS and Director of NIH both require Senate confirmation, and in practice the HHS position must be filled before the NIH position.  So this is the first of a series of steps needed to restore leadership to the department (HHS) and agency (NIH) responsible for the country's strongest funder OA policy, at a time when the policy is under aggressive attack from the publishing lobby.  Sebelius is a good person and her nomination is a good development.  Friends of OA have been working hard to protect the NIH policy and oppose the Conyers bill, but there's no doubt that the Daschle fiasco gave the publishers a month-long advantage in this session of Congress.  That advantage will soon end.