COI Redux – and Summit

Yoiks. COI cases every which way. Let’s see … the HHS Office of the Inspector General is reopening 103 COI cases involving NIH researchers. Most prominent among these was Dr. Trey Sunderland, chief of the Geriatric Psychiatry Branch for NIH, who invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when he appeared before the House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee last June. On Dec. 11, 2006, Sunderland pleaded guilty to criminal conflict of interest in U.S. District Court in Baltimore (you may recall he was “humbled”).

Perhaps not suprisingly, the Inspector General is convening a COI Summit on May 30, 2007 to provide a forum for a “robust discussion of COI issues among those Federal agencies with responsibility for Government ethics policy, oversight, and enforcement.” This includes the 24ish named “Special Investigations Unit” or SIU, which is indeed investigating COI in the NIH and FDA.

The Inspector General’s 94-page work plan for 2007 includes 2 pages worth of projects at the NIH alone, including:

  • Securing & Accounting for Controlled Substances;
  • Level of Commitment & Effort Reporting (I mentioned previously that the NIH & NSF were dropping the hammer – with fines – on overcommitted researchers and those billing for effort above the salary cap);
  • University Administrative & Clerical Salaries (no direct billing if it should be coming out of indirects);
  • Cost Transfers (unallowable cost transfers estimated at $20B – yes billion – so they’re taking this seriously);
  • Superfund Financial Activities (I hope this doesn’t include my house);
  • Compensation of Graduate Students Involved in NIH Research (esp tuition remission);
  • NIH Monitoring of Extramural Conflicts of Interest (ie, if they can’t police themselves, how the hell are they policing their grantees); and
  • Monitoring of NIH Research Grants (ie, is anyone actually reading all those progress reports?).

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