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Outrage: The $1.5 Million Morale Booster

Some people could use a lift to their spirits every now and then. But is such a pick-me-up worth $1.5 million? Apparently the U.S. Food and Drug Administration thinks so.

The FDA recently shelled out that sum in taxpayers’ money to boost morale within its ranks after feelings were bruised by the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences. In late 2006 the institute delivered an astringent assessment of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, accusing it of placing a greater emphasis on approving new drugs than ensuring their safety.

Following that deflating trip to the woodshed, the FDA purchased $1.5 million worth of salve from the Center for Professional Development (CPD), a consulting firm based in Oakland, Calif.

Among other things, for a recent FDA retreat, CPD supplied a slide show that compared top drug regulator Janet Woodcock to “visionary leaders” Golda Meir, Gandhi and Steven Jobs. CPD founder and president Charlotte Milliner deferred questions about the morale-boosting contract to the FDA, citing a confidentiality agreement her company signed with the agency.

The FDA says its association with CPD, which was finalized in 2007, was designed “to create a culture of communication and collaboration.” It clearly failed to engender warm and fuzzy feelings within some members of Congress, including Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., and his colleague Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas.

“It’s a cinch that if I spent a nickel of taxpayers’ money to rank myself with [Texas statesmen Sam] Houston and [Stephen F.] Austin, I’d have some explaining to do after the laughter died down,” Barton notes. He’s also “concerned about the lack of any justifiable metrics for measuring contract success.”

Blair S. Walker, who frequently writes for the Bulletin’s In the News section, lives in Miami.


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