Friday, July 11, 2008

Lavish FDA Bonuses Go to Bureaucrats, Not Scientists

You'd think the U.S. FatalFood and Drug Administration (FDA) would be on the mend. After all, last December, The New York Times reported that the FDA is desperately short of money and poorly organized, which is putting people's lives at risk. A report entitled "FDA Science and Mission at Risk", which can be found at the Food and Drug Administration's website, highlights the numerous problems at the FDA.

Congress has spent a lot of their time looking at the FDA, and made a number of changes meant to clean things up after more than a decade of mismanagement. As part of these efforts, a while ago, we learned about the FDA handing out $35 million in bonuses under a new incentive plan. FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach (a very close personal friend of the Bush family) explained that the bonuses were necessary to attract and retain "highly experienced, highly capable technical experts." That sounds fair enough. After all, the FDA must compete with more lucrative offers from the drug industry in terms of recruiting and retaining talent. But a new report from CBS News provides some details on the FDA's bonus system, and frankly, the results are a bit more troubling. uses only the latest Flash (recommended) or Microsoft video player technologies.

What's wrong with the FDA's bonus plan? Critics say that one quarter of the FDA bonuses went not to technical folk, but to bureaucrats, and those same bureaucrats are also getting "retention bonuses" year after year. In effect, the money is being spent on retaining the ineffective managers who have led the Agency on a downward spiral, with news of yet another food or drug crisis as a staple in our newspapers and evening newscasts almost daily.

Some FDA critics, like Rep. Bart Stupak, are seeing red over the latest scandal. Remember, the FDA's own science board said it's a broken agency (see the report above), lagging far behind in the science and so woefully under-funded and understaffed that it can't even guarantee the public's safety. "They've done such a miserable job these last two years, I think they should leave!" Stupak told CBS. "Not get bonuses of $40,000 to $50,000! Good grief."

Instead, $1 million of the total went to 28 top FDA executives. Even one associate commissioner whose plan to overhaul field labs was rejected as "poorly thought out" received $48,000. The director of the office of criminal investigations received a bonus of $41,000, bringing his total income to $208,000, which is apparently more than the director of the FBI. The person who reformed the bonus system got the biggest bonus: $58,000. That may not be a lot for a Wall Street investment banker, but when it comes to civil service, those bonuses are unusually generous.

Clearly, part of the problem with the FDA is that cronies of the Bush family are running the show, not people with scientific or management talent. Can you say "culture of corruption"? I certainly hope Congress, including Representative Bart Stupak, actually succeed in cleaning house. While it's pretty unlikely until the November elections, we can only hope that whoever is elected will select people for leadership positions in government not because they are family cronies of the President, but are actually leaders capable of managing whatever they are charged with leading.


Anonymous said...

Scott, you state: "That sounds fair enough. After all, the FDA must compete with more lucrative offers from the drug industry in terms of recruiting and retaining talent."

This argument aligns with the belief that monetary compensation is the ONLY viable metric to measure success. It precludes any assumption that some people (perhaps MANY people) want to be compensated fairly, but also have pride in their craft, and want to perform a needed service.

I have seen it bandied about on pharma blogs that unless pharma companies are well-rewarded (with untoward profits) they will not be incentivised to continue looking for new medicines, new treatments, possibly cures. I would argue that there are SCIENTISTS who would keep searching as long as there is breath in their bodies--regardless of compensation. Searching for answers is not merely what they do--it is what they ARE. Fred Banting and Jonas Salk immediately spring to mind as such individuals.

Over the years, I've met some committed individuals within the FDA who truly serve the public. Sadly, many of these public servants have been supplanted by inept political appointees in what, I guess, is Bush's legacy to positively PROVE the Peter Principle.


Bad Decision Maker said...

Ugh... that's really maddening in the context of the Avandia debacle and other things they missed when it is their job to monitor.

And... we don't have enough money for Medicare etc. but these dudes are getting 48,000 extra a year?