Longtime Illinois congressman and Research!America chairman John Edward Porter last month received the 2014 Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences. In honoring him, NAS cited him as “a tireless and effective advocate for scientific research over more than three decades, first in Congress and then in private life, thereby helping to maintain the pre-eminent status of biomedical research in the United States.”
The prize, established in 1914, is the academy’s most prestigious award and is presented annually to honor extraordinary use of science for the public good. Past recipients have ranged from business people like Bill and Melinda Gates and former Lockheed CEO Norman Augustine to accomplished researchers and thinkers such as Carl Sagan, Norman Borlaug, Harold Shapiro and Maxine Singer to policymakers such as Porter or William T. Golden.
First elected to Congress in 1980, Porter served Illinois’ 10th district in the U.S. House of Representatives for 21 years. As a member and then chair of the House Appropriations subcommittee, the Republican lawmaker played a key role in overseeing budget appropriations for all federal health and education agencies. In 1995, Porter launched a campaign that led to the largest funding increase in NIH history, doubling the agency’s budget over five years despite efforts in Congress at the time to cut government spending.
In recognition of Porter’s leadership in furthering biomedical research, the congressionally mandated John Edward Porter Neuroscience Research Center was recently completed on the NIH campus and will bring together scientists from seven of NIH’s institutes.
“[Porter] immersed himself in the detailed working of our agency while not losing sight of the big picture — namely the scientific mission to make discoveries and to apply our science to improvements in human health,” wrote Harold Varmus, director of the NIH from 1993 to 1999 and current director of the National Cancer Institute, in a letter supporting Porter’s nomination for the award.
Currently a partner at Hogan Lovells, Porter specializes in health legislation and political law compliance. He also serves as chair of Research!America, a nonprofit public education and advocacy alliance dedicated to making health research a higher national priority, and as vice chair of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health. Porter was elected to the Institute of Medicine in 2007 and has served on many study committees of the IOM and National Research Council. Representing IOM, he sits on the advisory committee for the NAS’ Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, or DBASSE.
Among Porter’s many awards is the 2000 Mary Wood Lasker Award for Public Service “for wise and perceptive leadership on behalf of medical research.” He has received public service awards from many scientific and medical organizations, including the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, the American Society for Cell Biology, the American Society for Microbiology, the Association of American Medical Colleges, the Association of Academic Health Centers, the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, the Society of Neuroscience, and the American Medical Association.
He is also a member of the boards of the PBS Foundation, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Bretton Woods Committee. Previously, he was chairman of PBS and served on the boards of RAND Corp., the American Heart Association, the Brookings Institution, and the Population Resource Center.