Scientists, who took part in the survey, expressed their main gripe to be the rules that were put in place by the NIH last year after scientists had broke existing restrictions on lucrative private consulting deals
The new rules now ban outside income from such agreements. In addition, the NIH is also placing greater restrictions and disclosure requirements on employees' financial holdings.
Of the 8,000 NIH employees, or about half the workforce, who responded to the Internet-based survey, nearly 40 per cent of the scientists said they are looking for other jobs or were considering doing so as a result of the new rules put in place.
Specifically, 3,336 NIH scientists responded to the survey, including 512 tenure and tenure-track researchers.
Of these NIH scientists, 18 per cent said they were trying to leave or considering it.
Those who are not in the tenure group typically do not conduct research themselves and instead manage outside research conducted with NIH money by universities and other nonfederal entities. They are less likely to have private consulting opportunities.
One-third of NIH scientists said they believed the new rules would hurt NIH's ability to fulfil its mission. The majority said the old rules could have been enforced better rather than tightened.
Dr Raynard Kington, the agency's principal deputy director, told the Associated Press: "Of course we are concerned when any employees are saying they might consider leaving as a result of a change of policy.''
He later added that the survey results were muddy because they combine both those actively seeking to leave and those thinking about it.
However, it wasn't all bad news. The survey also revealed that nearly 90 per cent of researchers said they still intend to work at NIH a year from now.
While results suggested an atmosphere of low morale, kington said the scientists' job satisfaction rate of 81 per cent reflected one of the government's most positive work forces.
The survey also revealed that employees believed the new rules would boost the agency's credibility with the public with seventy-three per cent agreeing with this.
"We have to monitor closely and we'll continue do that, and if we show through our evaluations objective evidence of an impact on our ability to recruit and retain the smartest staff, scientific and non-scientific, that we can, then we will be the first ones to make the case for modifying the rules, but we're not there yet," Kington said.