Director of Oversight of Biomedical Research Misconduct Blasts Bureaucracy in Resignation Letter

Sunday, March 16, 2014
David Wright

The director of an office that monitors misconduct in government-funded biomedical research recently resigned with a letter that blasted the federal “remarkably dysfunctional” bureaucracy for inefficiency.


David Wright was named director of the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) in December 2011. That office, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, had had no permanent director for two years before Wright came on board. The office’s mission is to research misconduct by researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health and other Public Health Service agencies. The office provides education programs, reviews complaints of misconduct and recommends sanctions for those found in violation of regulations, according to ScienceInsider.


Wright said in his resignation letter that he enjoyed the time he worked with scientist-investigators. But the bulk of his time, he said, was spent trying to cut through the bureaucracy run by Assistant Secretary for Health Howard Koh, for whom Wright worked. Wright called the culture in Koh’s office “secretive, autocratic and unaccountable.” 


One example cited by Wright involved his efforts to fill the post of an ORI division director. He says he was told by Koh’s deputy, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health Wanda Jones, that the position Wright wanted to fill was on a secret priority list and he was not allowed to know where that position fell on the list. The job has yet to be filled 16 months later.


Wright, who taught at Michigan State University before entering government service, also complained about the general nature of bureaucracies to perpetuate themselves. “I’m offended as an American taxpayer that the federal bureaucracy—at least the part I’ve labored in—is so profoundly dysfunctional,” Wright wrote.  “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.”


In his letter, Wright said he plans to return to academia and to publish a log he kept of his daily activities while at ORI. In the meantime, the office will be led by Don Wright, who is unrelated to David Wright and previously was an interim director of the office.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Top U.S. Scientific Misconduct Official Quits in Frustration With Bureaucracy (by Jocelyn Kaiser, ScienceInsider)


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