Federal Health Agency Caught in $241M Tax Scheme Involving DEI Scientist Hires

By: Julia Mehalko | Last updated: Apr 24, 2024

The National Institutes of Health, a federal health agency, has been caught in a $241 million tax scheme allegedly involving the hiring of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) scientists. 

According to the National Association of Scholars (NAS), a right-leaning organization, the NIH’s Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST) program is a scheme that pushes for diversity more than anything else.

What Is DEI?

DEI has been in the news quite a lot recently, thanks to many in conservative circles who have called out the practice of trying to create more diverse and equitable playing fields in industries around the United States.

Two women looking at a laptop and smiling together.

Source: Ilyuza Mingazova/Unsplash

DEI attempts to allow underrepresented people, such as minorities or women, into more desirable jobs that they may not easily get on their own, thanks to discrimination in the workforce or on college campuses.

Criticisms of DEI

Though DEI was made to try to help many get ahead in fields they might not be able to, countless critics have recently begun to come out against DEI.

A woman and a man talking together with two laptops open in front of them.

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These critics have claimed that, in its effort to stop discrimination against women and minorities, DEI has become racist against straight, white males. 

An NIH Scheme

Now, NAS and conservatives have accused the NIH of creating a scheme using $241 million of taxpayer money to push for more scientists from minority backgrounds, rather than pushing for scientists based on their abilities. 

A bird’s eye view of an NIH building in the United States.

Source: National Cancer Institute/Unsplash

The NIH’s FIRST program pays universities around the United States to hire various biomedical researchers. The program does push for what the NIH calls “inclusive excellence.” 

Quality Before Ideology

According to the critics of this alleged scheme, the NIH should only be thinking of the quality of the program’s candidates. Instead, they are thinking with an “ideological agenda.”

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As a result, the NIH is putting ideology before quality — and critics believe it should be the other way around. Open the Books, a transparency watchdog, has also backed NAS’ claims and has said that the NIH’s FIRST program is a complete waste of American taxpayers’ money. 

DEI At American Universities

This NIH program grants millions of dollars to U.S. colleges around the country if they tick the right DEI boxes, according to these allegations.

An aerial view of Cornell University seen in the daytime.

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So far, the NIH has already sent out many grants to about 16 different colleges in 2021 alone. Recently, the program funded four awards for $64 million. Open the Books has stated that this program will cost taxpayers about $241 million in just nine years.


Recent Grants

Some of the most recent grants have gone to schools like the University of South Carolina and the University of New Mexico, which received $13 million and $15.6 million from the NIH’s FIRST program, respectively.

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Northwestern University also received a recent grant from the program of about $16 million. However, these three colleges aren’t alone. Data shows that the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Tuskegee University, Cornell University, and Florida State University have also received money.


Only Supporting DEI Candidates

According to these new allegations, NIH’s FIRST program is only awarding grants to universities that support DEI. Critics have stated that this does the entire university, and its scientists, a disservice. 

A woman using tubes during a medical research and testing process.

Source: National Cancer Institute/Unsplash

For example, claims have also been made that the program will consider anyone who says they will “treat everyone the same” — regardless of their gender, skin color, or sexual orientation — at a disadvantage


Pushing Diversity

Instead, the program is looking for candidates who state that they value diversity above all else. These applicants are also required to submit “diversity statements” that support DEI.

A doctor wearing a white lab coat using a phone.

Source: National Cancer Institute/Unsplash

Using words like “equity” and “racial justice” has also allowed universities and candidates to get ahead of those who don’t, according to NAS fellow John Sailer. 


Not Choosing the Best Candidates

According to Sailer, this practice conducted by the NIH is hurting scientists and universities around the country. Instead of giving grants to those who are the best in their field, the NIH is only giving money to those who push DEI talking points.

A woman putting liquid into tubes during a scientific test.

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Sailer has claimed that this practice isn’t right, as it reveals how universities and the government are putting political ideologies above the quality of research.


Hampering Medical Research

Sailer, in a Wall Street Journal piece, also explained how this decision fully hampers medical research in the country. “In medical research, lives depend on putting excellence first,” he explained.

Three different scientists all looking at a tablet together.

Source: National Cancer Institute/Unsplash

“The NIH distorts that value, subordinating it to political ideology and endangering those it’s supposed to serve,” Sailer added.


DEI’s Latest Fight

These latest allegations are just the latest fight against DEI, mainly from conservative circles. Many moves have been made by organizations and local governments to stop DEI, as they say it is hurting American society.

A woman working in a science lab and running tests.

Source: Diane Serik/Unsplash

As a result of this change of thought, DEI has been halted in various places. For example, the University of Florida cut all of its DEI positions after new state regulations were passed. 


Context into NIH’s Alleged $241M Tax Scheme

To further explore the controversies surrounding the NIH’s alleged misuse of $241 million, it’s important to look at the historical context, international comparisons, and the broader impacts of DEI initiatives in federal funding.

A scientist using a microscope and wearing gloves.

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These new perspectives aim to provide a comprehensive understanding of how diversity policies shape research funding and its outcomes.


Evolution of DEI Initiatives in Federal Funding

Federal support for DEI has evolved significantly over the decades. Initially focused on compliance with anti-discrimination laws, it has expanded to actively promoting diversity within funded projects (via ABC News).

An image of a female scientist pictured holding up a small vile of blood in her lab

Source: Freepik

This shift reflects a broader societal acknowledgment of the benefits that diversity brings to research and innovation, illustrating how federal policies have adapted to changing social dynamics.


Global Perspectives on DEI in Research Funding

Countries worldwide have embraced DEI in research with varying strategies and outcomes. For instance, European nations often integrate DEI into their scientific funding frameworks (via ACC), while Asian countries are continuing to focus on different aspects of diversity (via BSR).

Man Doing A Sample Test In The Laboratory

Source: Edward Jenner/Pexels

These global approaches provide valuable lessons on the integration of DEI into national policies and its impact on scientific excellence.


Canada’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Framework

Canada’s approach to integrating DEI into its research funding has been comprehensive, mandating DEI plans from institutions seeking grants.

The Canadian flag flies on a pole in front of a blue sky and several trees

Source: Freepik

This policy has led to notable increases in diverse participation in research roles, showcasing a successful model of policy-driven change that supports equity alongside scientific advancement.


The UK’s Athena SWAN Charter

The UK’s Athena SWAN Charter is aimed at advancing the representation of women in science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine. It links funding to institutions’ DEI performance, influencing universities to adopt more inclusive practices.

England London Bridge and Big Ben

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This has sparked a cultural shift within British academic environments towards greater gender equity.


Impact of DEI Initiatives on Research Quality in the U.S.

While DEI initiatives aim to foster inclusivity, their impact on research quality remains a contentious issue.

Scientist from Blackrock Neurotech examining a sample under a microscope

Source: @BlackrockNeurotech/Facebook

Critics argue that emphasis on diversity could overshadow merit, whereas supporters claim that diverse perspectives enhance creativity and innovation in research, leading to higher quality outcomes.


Long-term Impacts of DEI on Biomedical Research

DEI-focused funding may either enhance or dilute the quality of biomedical research.

Scientists analyzing a sample with a microscope

Source: Freepik

Studies suggest that diverse research teams are more likely to produce innovative solutions to complex problems, potentially leading to groundbreaking medical advancements (via J Med Natl Assoc).


Predicting the Future Trajectory of Federal Research Funding

As political and societal landscapes evolve, so too might the criteria for federal research funding.

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Future policies could either tighten the requirements for DEI or broaden them, significantly impacting how research agendas are set and which projects receive support.


Enhancing Transparency in Federal DEI Programs

To address criticisms of inefficiency and ideological bias, federal funding programs could benefit from increased transparency.

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This means providing clear metrics for funding allocation and making outcomes accessible for public review, ensuring that taxpayer money is effectively advancing scientific research.


The Need for Accountability in Funding

Past cases of mismanaged federal funds highlight the need for stringent accountability in DEI programs (via Faegrae Drinker).

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Source: Freepik

By implementing robust monitoring and evaluation frameworks, agencies can ensure that the intended goals of diversity and excellence are met without compromising either.


Expert Insights on Federal Funding Accountability

Economists and public policy experts suggest that federal programs should adopt more rigorous accountability practices.

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Such measures would help ascertain that funds are used judiciously and that they genuinely contribute to enhancing research quality and diversity.


Reevaluating DEI Goals in Federal Funding

While DEI initiatives are designed to enrich the scientific community by integrating diverse perspectives, it’s crucial to balance these goals with the imperative of maintaining high research standards.

Scientists working together in a laboratory

Source: Urcomunicacion/Wikimedia Commons

Reevaluating these initiatives could ensure they effectively contribute to both diversity and excellence in research.