JULY 02, 2007
Two top officials at the troubled government agency responsible for protecting public health and safety have for years violated federal disclosure laws by concealing meetings with influential drug company executives, lobbyists and patient groups.
In violation of open government laws created to provide transparency, the pair of high-ranking drug safety officials at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) failed to maintain a public calendar that details all significant meetings between top brass and anyone outside the executive branch.
As per federal regulations, the FDA public calendars contain reports of meetings held by agency officials with entities that could potentially influence public policy or create a conflict of interest between the official and the industry he or she regulates. The two drug safety doctors (Janet Woodcock and Steven Galson) left their so-called public calendars virtually empty, however.
When their suspiciously blank schedules were discovered by a Congressional committee investigating the agency, the two FDA policy officials said it was merely an administrative oversight. Officials in their position – Galson is FDA drug chief and Woodcock is a deputy commissioner and former drug chief – normally hold hundreds of meetings with outside entities over the years.
For example, in the same five-year span that Woodcock and Galson disclosed practically no meetings in their public calendar, another comparable official, the agency’s chief veterinarian, listed 263 meetings in his report.
The FDA has faced a series of scandals recently involving its former director and the agency’s failure to enforce many federal laws because it would negatively affect the profits of wealthy companies that pay it hundreds of millions of dollars in fees.
The former director (Lester Crawford) resigned abruptly after he was caught lying about his ownership of stock in companies regulated by the agency when he headed it. Crawford falsely reported that he had sold the stock when in fact he continued owning shares in the firms under FDA regulation.
Then a Congressional report revealed that the agency was not enforcing crucial laws against wealthy pharmaceuticals and other companies that make medical devices even though there was no increase in regulation compliance from the companies. The FDA gets more than $400 million annually in fees from the companies that were allowed to compromise public safety.
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