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Commentary by Dr. Martin M. Cummings on his testimony before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee concerning the National Library of Medicine, for fiscal year 1979

From interviews with Dr. Cheryl Dee, 2010

Excerpts from testimony
Interview and commentary
Further resources

Excerpts of U.S. Senate subcommittee testimony concerning the National Library of Medicine, followed by an interview with Dr. Martin M. Cummings, Director Emeritus, National Library of Medicine, reflecting upon the testimony


February, 1978

U.S. SENATE . . . Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations

Hon. Warren G. Magnuson (Chairman) presiding.

Chairman Magnuson. All right. Dr. Cummings, National Library of Medicine.

Statement of Dr. Martin M. Cummings, Director

Library Services

Expansion of NLM information services has been possible in great part because of the application of new computer technologies to basic library activities such as acquisitions, cataloging and processing of library materials. . . .

. . . The additional positions provided by Congress in FY 1978 were helpful in our efforts to keep pace with a consistent 15% increase in services requested.

Research and Development in Biomedical Communications

The Lister Hill Center is charged with responsibility for the exploration of more effective uses of communications technology to support health sciences, biomedical research and health education. . . .

The NLM is also continuing its collaborative effort with NASA in the experimental use of the Communications Technology Satellite (CTS) which was launched in 1976. Acting as technical coordinator and principal investigator on behalf of the Public Health Service, the Lister Hill Center designed, implemented, and now manages a ground network of six stations located throughout the United States. By using ground stations of other organizations, and by interconnecting with surface communication systems, it is possible to augment the outreach programs. It is clear that these broadband communication technologies can be exploited to assist health care delivery systems in remote communities and for communication of health care information.

. . . With the scheduled completion of the Lister Hill Center building, there is a clear need for the future development of in-house multi-disciplinary expertise in computer technology to fully capitalize upon the resources of this new facility and to fully explore applications of emerging technologies.


Dr. Cummings. Mr. Chairman, our request for FY 1979 represents an increase of $2,241,000 over the FY 1978 level.

I will summarize some of the highlights of the National Library of Medicine activities.

First I would like to point out that in this fiscal year we will celebrate the centennial of the production of the world's most comprehensive medical bibliography, Index Medicus.

It will be a hundred years old the end of the year. I should report we have sold more than 10 million copies. We continue to acquire an index catalog and distribute medical information in all forms.

National Library of Medicine Board of Regents

Dr. Cummings. Unfortunately, I should point out that this year we were unable to award any new grants for resources building, or research and training, because of the absence of a Board of Regents.

We have a statutory requirement that the grants of the Library be reviewed and approved by a Presidentially appointed board.

We have had a hiatus of about a year, so there may be some static that will come to your attention as a result of this.

Senator Mathias. What happened to the old Board?

Dr. Cummings. It disappeared by attrition. Each appointment is for a 4-year period. With no renewals, the Board simply vanished by attrition.

Senator Mathias. You're telling us that the appropriations are there, the money is there?

Dr. Cummings. Yes, sir.

Senator Mathias. It is just simply the mechanical failure to fill these positions of the Board of Regents that is preventing this work from going forward?

Dr. Cummings. That is correct. However, I should bring you up-to-date.

Recently, nominations have been submitted from the White House to the Senate for appropriate review, and hopefully, for confirmation. If this takes place in a reasonable period of time, we will be able to continue the process of making awards, and get back on schedule.

Senator Mathias. How many vacancies are there to fill?

Dr. Cummings. Ten.

Senator Mathias. Ten vacancies?

Dr. Cummings. Yes, sir.

Senator Mathias. The Board has been without quorum for a year?

Dr. Cummings. Yes. The Board, in fact has had no members for six months. It had one member of a year ago and four two years ago. It's an extraordinary experience.

Senator Mathias. Sounds like it.

Chairman Magnuson. I don't want-the record ought to be clear here. Nixon started with no appointments. Ford had no appointments. A least there is some movement down there now.

Dr. FREDRICKSON. I think that it is an ecumenical lapse, Mr. Chairman. There have been no appointments for three years.

Senator Mathias. I am concerned--I am totally shocked--

Chairman Magnuson. Someone's going to say, why didn't somebody move? We brought this up last year.

Senator Mathias. I will say, why didn't everybody move?

Chairman Magnuson. Everybody move, all of them put together.

Senator Mathias. It's not a question of somebody; everybody. Be that as it may, the wheels didn't grind to a stop until within the last year.

Chairman Magnuson. Yes. We better get something going.

Senator Mathias. Let's join together on that.

Chairman Magnuson. We will, in a non-partisan effort.

Interview with Martin Cummings, MD, Director Emeritus, National Library of Medicine, 1964-84; interviewed by Cheryl Dee, PhD, 2010.

National Library of Medicine Board of Regents--Hiatus Year

Dr. Dee. Dr. Cummings, as I read this year's Senate testimony, the discussion about the Board of Regents was certainly the most unusual. Would you mind providing some of the background of the traditional appointment of the Board of Regents and the problems that occurred that prohibited the appointment of the Board of Regents as described in this testimony?

Dr. Cummings. By statute the National Library of Medicine was governed by a presidentially appointed Board of Regents. The process involved nominations from the White House to the Senate, where the candidates for appointment to the Board of Regents were reviewed and approved. This procedure worked well until the time of the administration of President Richard Nixon and the composition of the Senate surrounding President Nixon. At this time as I recall the Senate was controlled by the Democratic Party and there was a strong political separation of principles on policies representing the different political views. For the first time Board of Regents' nominations from the U.S. President were rejected by the Senate.

The standoff which held up a new appointment to the Board of Regents went on for several years lasting through the Nixon administration and followed by the Ford administration. During this time existing members of the NLM Board of Regents completed their service and the Board became so small that it could not function and perform their major duty, which then was to approve grants recommended by the National Library of Medicine.

The problem became so severe that I decided to bring it to the attention of the Subcommittee in my open hearings. The NLM Board could not function and could not get a new review of its policies by the distinguished board of experts, nor could NLM make its larger grants without the approval of the Board of Regents. Something had to be done to maintain an effective operation. The Senate Subcommittee on Appropriations was very responsive and supportive, recognizing the damage being done to the NLM grant programs particularly.

The Subcommittee recommended a nonpartisan solution as you see in the Senate testimony you provided. The problem was ultimately resolved by a change in the NLM statute. Now the appointments can be made by the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare and not by U.S. presidential recommendation. This made it easier for appointments to the Board of Regents without a heavy political overlay.

Further Resources

Institutions and Programs