In the anxious era of government budget cutbacks, everything is on the table: federal employee salaries have been frozen; postdoctoral fellow contracts have not been renewed; research projects have been scaled back; and my travel funds have been cut by 33%. Yet, at the NIH, we persevere, doing the best research in hopes of bettering the nation’s health.
One austerity measure that should please the American taxpayer is reflected in an executive order signed by President Obama on November 9, 2011. The executive order directs federal agencies to “stop using taxpayer dollars to buy swag” (i.e., plaques, branded pens, and other promotional items).
Chances are, you may have seen the NIH logo or some other government agency name on some promotional items in the past (e.g., mugs, notepads, stress balls, etc.), but certainly with much less frequency than say, a non-profit or private company’s name or a pharmaceutical product’s name.
I will admit that often the only benefit I get from attending job fairs is the free swag that I pick up: a magnetic clip or hand sanitizer with the company logo emblazoned on the bottle. And who could resist picking up another reusable bag for groceries? So what if I am a walking advertisement for Gardasil, Pfizer, and Fisher Scientific? After all, Montgomery County in Maryland instituted a new 5-cent tax on bags starting on Jan 1, 2012, so I put these bags to good use!
What kind of promotional swag have I gotten from the federal government? Several years ago, I recall picking up a red NCI-labeled luggage tag when I browsed fellowship opportunities at a conference exhibition hall. Last year, at my fellowship program’s scientific symposium, the 30 fellows in attendance received poster tubes, perfect for the conferences we had funding then to attend. This year’s symposium had no such useful swag.
Out of all the cutbacks imposed so far, I think this no-swag order has been the most reasonable. A branded pen will probably not be the deciding factor that attracts the best and brightest to work in the federal government or apply for NIH research grant funding. Of course, I’m not sure how much money this austerity measure actually saves, but I guess it’s a step in the right direction.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Government.
Wenny Lin, PhD, MPH, is a fellow in the Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program at the National Cancer Institute. Prior to joining the Nutritional Epidemiology Branch in the Division of Cancer Epidemiology & Genetics, Wenny earned her MPH from the Harvard School of Public Health in 2009 and her PhD in Cell & Molecular Biology from the University of Pennsylvania in 2008.