Sally Rockey has overseen the NIH's external-grant office since 2005. Credit: NIH

Sally Rockey, the deputy director for extramural research at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) said today (11 June) that she will leave the agency in September. 

Rockey oversees the NIH's grants to external researchers, which account for the bulk of the agency's US$30.3-billion annual budget. She has worked at the NIH since 2005, coming to the agency after 19 years at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

In her next position, Rockey will lead a non-profit corporation called the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, which handles private donations to research. The US government created the organization in 2014.

“I will greatly miss her wisdom, courage and creativity as we tackle the knotty issues associated with extramural-grant funding, especially in this particularly stark budget climate,” NIH director Francis Collins said in a statement. “Sally has done an outstanding job of steering the NIH through many challenging times, and we will be forever in her debt.”

Rockey holds a PhD in entomology — an unusual background for a top NIH official — and her office is decorated with stuffed ladybird-beetle toys. She is perhaps best known for her NIH blog, Rock Talk, which discusses topics such as trends in NIH-funded research and the agency's funding policies. Rockey has also used the blog to solicit public comment on proposed NIH initiatives, such as a scheme for an “emeritus grant” intended to help late-career scientists to wind down their labs.