How the FDA Tried to Fix its Image Problem

October 9th, 2008 | Sources: Washington Post

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Knowing their agency’s reputation has been tarnished by a series of misadventures, underfunded initiatives and Congressional hearings, FDA officials recently decided to contract with a PR firm to “create…a lasting positive image of the agency for the American public.”

That decision might have triggered yet another misadventure for the FDA, but Washington Post Staff Writer Robert O’Harrow sniffed it out before any bad money changed hands.

After reviewing emails and conducting interviews with FDA staff, O’Harrow reported last week that FDA officials did not use a competitive process, as per government policy, to secure a low bid on the $300,000 PR contract. Instead they schemed to award the contract to Qorvis Communications, a beltway firm with links to the FDA official organizing the deal.

The scheme involved awarding the contract to a company belonging to an Alaska Native corporation which needs not compete for federal contracts since it qualifies for certain set-asides. This corporation would then subcontract all the work to Qorvis.

When the Post informed FDA deputy commissioner John Dyer of the scheme, he pulled the plug and requested an independent investigation. Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich) also plans to investigate. There is no evidence that senior FDA officials were involved.

Mildred Cooper, an FDA contractor who was the scheme’s mastermind, had worked with Qorvis on behalf of another company earlier in her career. “I had experience with Qorvis” she said. “It was a matter of efficiency.”


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