Top federal health official cites ‘profoundly dysfunctional’ environment in resignation letter

By Arturo Garcia
Friday, March 14, 2014 18:19 EDT
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[Image: "A Man Being Coaxed By His Good And Bad Side" via Shutterstock]
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The head of a federal office in charge of monitoring ethical violations in research funded by public health agencies criticized what he described as a bureaucracy-laden system in his resignation letter, Science Insider reported on Wednesday.

“Working with the research community and the remarkable scientist-investigators at ORI has been the best job I’ve ever had,” outgoing Office of Research Integrity (ORI) director David Wright wrote. “As for the rest, I’m offended as an American taxpayer that the federal bureaucracy — at least the part I’ve labored in — is so profoundly dysfunctional. I’m hardly the first person to have made that discovery, but I’m saddened by the fact that there is so little discussion, much less outrage, regarding the problem.”

Wright’s letter to Assistant Secretary for Health Howard Koh, who serves under Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, stated that Wright will leave the position on March 27. The ORI is a division of Sebelius’ department charged with following up on any allegations of misconduct in research conducted with funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and similar public agencies.

“This has been at once the best and worst job I’ve ever had,” Wright wrote at the beginning of the letter, explaining that while he greatly enjoyed working with researchers and his agency’s investigative staff, that only constituted 35 percent of the job.

“The rest of my role as ORI Director has been the very worst job I have ever had and it occupies up to 65% of my time,” he wrote. “That part of the job is spent navigating the remarkably dysfunctional HHS bureaucracy to secure resources and, yes, get permission for ORI to serve the research community. I knew coming into this job about the bureaucratic limitations of the federal government, but I had no idea how stifling it would be.”

Science Insider also reported that Wright did not mention the recent criticism by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), who accused the agency in a separate letter of not imposing harsh enough sanctions against Dong-Pyou Han, an Iowa State University researcher who managed to secure nearly $19 million in funding by using fake data. Han was banned from conducting public health researching for three years, but ORI did not strip him of his funding.

“This seems like a very light penalty for a doctor who purposely tampered with a research trial and directly caused millions of taxpayer dollars to be wasted on fraudulent studies,” Grassley wrote last month.

Wright also indicated in his letter to Koh that he would publish an online blog sharing his experiences working at the agency after leaving.

[Image: "A Man Being Coaxed By His Good And Bad Side" via Shutterstock]

Arturo Garcia
Arturo Garcia
Arturo R. García is the managing editor at Racialicious.com. He is based in San Diego, California and has written for both print and broadcast media, including contributions to GlobalComment.com, The Root and Comment Is Free. Follow him on Twitter at @ABoyNamedArt
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