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Meet NIA's Director of Management

Patrick Shirdon
Patrick SHIRDON,
Director of Management,
Office of Administrative Management Executive Office

Every NIH institute has an executive responsible for managing its business organization. This is someone who keeps computer systems, buildings, human resources, contracts, and budget operations running, someone who makes or administers policies. If I was on your campus, I might be called the Chief Business Officer.

I’ve had the pleasure of serving in this role since 2012, and consider it a privilege to lead the teams that deliver services to our scientists here at the NIA, and also the broader research community. NIA is a billion dollar enterprise, and as in any organization of our size, we face many challenges.

When it comes to NIA staff, you may only be most familiar with one or two scientists—your program officer, scientific review officer, a grants specialist, or perhaps one of our intramural scientists. But NIA has an extensive behind-the-scenes operation that supports the grant function and our laboratories, and indirectly your research.

At NIA, your contacts in laboratory, program or grants offices are supported by people who advise them on ethics and the law, who buy and service their computers, who hire their new colleagues, who organize their travel, and who focus on resource optimization. Not to mention technology transfer, intellectual property, patents, licensing, R&D contracts and public-private partnerships! Our intramural, or in-house, research program operates research studies from laboratory facilities we maintain, along with the vivarium and clinical facilities. If a scientist needs a new magnet, a new technology of any kind, my team can often make it happen.

NIA has a great, behind-the-scenes team, and I am lucky to lead this group in support of NIA’s mission and its scientific leadership.  A few of the challenges that landed on our plates recently include:

Managing budgets when there’s uncertainty

Budget uncertainty is a key administrative difficulty we face. It’s hard enough to track more than a billion dollars in grants and other spending each year, down to the penny. But factors outside of NIA’s control often delay or complicate this task in some way.

Like the rest of the federal government, our annual fiscal year funding cycle begins October 1. In recent years, though, short-term continuing resolutions—temporary funding agreements—have delayed receipt of our final budget until well into the fiscal year. These have made managing NIA’s budget and associated scenario analysis challenging. This uncertainty then affects our stakeholders. Awards for grants and contracts and any number of mission-critical laboratory science activities are delayed. So we scramble. We use every funding flexibility at our disposal to maintain operations until a budget is received, which can be as late as April, more than halfway through our fiscal year.

We also manage unexpected changes, sometimes positive change! A few years ago, we received a $100-million-dollar funding increase. This funding was to be directed toward Alzheimer’s disease. We were excited about the opportunity to advance aging research. But we didn’t know if additional funding would be provided by Congress to the NIA for subsequent years. And, research grants are usually awarded for five years, though they are paid year by year. As you’d imagine, the new money posed quite a challenge: how to most effectively apply these funds in a single year. Considerable time was devoted to conducting scenario analysis and running spending models to ensure that NIA made the best use of the funds it received. 

Travel for scientific meetings and conferences

You may have heard how difficult it is for federal employees—and that includes NIA scientific and administrative staff—to obtain approval for travel to scientific conferences and meetings. Revised policies regulating federal travel were put into effect a couple of years ago, with the intention of better managing these activities and ensuring travel is for the right reasons and at the lowest cost possible. However, these revised policies have brought a system with layers of requests and approvals, making it very challenging for us to plan and execute legitimate travel in a timely way. You may have run into this when you are counting on participation by someone from NIA at a meeting, but you don’t know whether they are attending until the last minute. The policy is a burden to us, and disruptive for you.

How can you find a job at the National Institute on Aging?

Though some of our challenges might make you hesitate about a job at NIA, I promise you that the rewards of meaningful work and great colleagues continue to make NIA special. So despite all those challenges, if you are still interested in a job at NIH, see these great descriptions of the kind of work that’s available here.

We post opportunities on USAJOBS, where you can set up alerts to get an email when there’s a new vacancy at NIH. Our HR staff actively recruits for new and diverse talent. Our intramural research program also posts vacancies and there are many training opportunities associated with that ongoing research. Keep in mind that we hire not only scientists, but also contract and budget experts, administrative officers, IT specialists, and others. Successful science takes more than just scientists.

I hope you’ll consider some of these opportunities. If you have questions, get in touch with me by commenting below.

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