Foster effective leadership. NIOSH should ensure that the Hearing Loss Research Program and its components have leadership with appropriate technical expertise as well as skills in managing in a complex environment, mobilizing resources, promoting collaboration within the program, and increasing program coherence. All of these leaders must serve as champions of the program within and outside NIOSH and help to garner adequate resources and recruit expertise. The leaders should be respected and involved in the hearing loss prevention community and in their own fields of expertise. NIOSH should provide the overall program leader with sufficient authority to make appropriate program and budgetary decisions.
It bears repeating that the leaders of the Hearing Loss Research Program must contend with a small budget—about $7.5 million in fiscal year (FY) 2005—much of which is reserved for work related to mining or for extramural research. The committee urges NIOSH to consider the need for program resources that are commensurate with a more robust pursuit of the program’s goals and with sustaining the continuity of the most relevant research in specific program areas.
As described in Chapters 2 and 3, the committee is concerned that the Hearing Loss Research Program has lacked adequate internal technical expertise, especially in the specialized areas of epidemiology and noise control engineering, and has appeared to rely on a fairly narrow group of external experts for input and collaboration. For the program to hold the position of national leadership in occupational hearing loss prevention and noise control research, it must draw on outstanding members of the communities responsible for the prevention of occupational hearing loss (as detailed in Chapter 1) both within and outside the program.
The committee commends the efforts by the management of the Hearing Loss Research Program to increase capabilities of its staff by supporting graduate education in fields such as noise control engineering. Although this approach can supplement the program’s resources, it is not a substitute for the recruitment of senior-level researchers with demonstrated expertise in areas essential to the effective performance of the program. Similarly, seeking contributions to program planning discussions from outside experts is appropriate, but relying on a small set of contributors (e.g., only six outside participants at the Futures Workshop) does not provide sufficient breadth and depth of expertise.