Republicans probe PR spending at NIH

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"With increasingly tight federal budgets, every dollar invested at the NIH becomes even more precious," the group wrote.

The letter raised specific concerns about communications spending at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), which was criticized in an editorial last month published in the journal Nature.

According to that piece, the NCI spent $45 million on public relations activities in 2012, or enough to fund more than 100 research grants.

The lawmakers asked for a reply from Collins by April 25.

In addition to Upton, the letter came from Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Energy and Commerce Committee vice chairman; Joe Barton (R-Texas), the panel's chairman emeritus, Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) and Michael Burgess (R-Texas), who lead the panel's health subcommittee; and Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) and Rodney Alexander (R-La.), who lead the Appropriations subcommittee that governs the federal health department.