Director of ORI Resigns, Blames Bureaucracy

The director of the Office of Research Integrity, David Wright, resigned from his position in a February 25, 2014, letter that was leaked before HHS, the parent agency of ORI, was able to report the news. According to the leaked letter, Wright left his position due to his frustration with what he called the “secretive, autocratic, and unaccountable bureaucracy” of the Office of HHS’s Assistant Secretary of Health (OASH), which is headed by Howard Koh, Wright’s boss. Despite Wright’s statement that he enjoyed working with other members of the research community, which he claimed made up about 35 percent of his job, he asserted the other 65 percent of his role involved working with HHS officials to secure resources and permission to serve the community and, as such, was “the worst job he has ever had.” HHS confirmed Wright’s departure but has not responded to the allegations in his letter. Another member of OASH is scheduled to step into the position as acting director.

ORI

The ORI monitors misconduct in the biomedical research field. Specifically, the ORI is charged with monitoring allegations of improprieties and misconduct in research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as well as other Public Health Service (PHS) agencies. Wright became the director two years ago. Recently, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), wrote the ORI a letter accusing the office of not imposing harsh enough penalties on AIDS researchers at Iowa State University who falsified data in order to obtain $19 million in NIH funding.

Resignation Letter

In the leaked letter, Wright referenced many reasons and recounted several specific incidences that led him to resign the position he has held for the past two years and used the letter as a platform to critique the entire foundation of the ORI, including OASH and HHS. In addition to mentioning the lack of administrative support and dysfunctional organization culture of the OASH and HHS, respectively, Wright asserted that OASH is the type of public bureaucracy that sociologist Max Weber warned of, that is, an organization that has stopped serving the public and exists only to perpetuate itself. In support of that argument, Wright references the “exorbitant” amount of time spent in meetings “generating repetitive and often meaningless data and reports to make our precinct of the bureaucracy look productive.” Wright also implied that the ORI should be removed from OASH, as OASH is an “intensely political environment” that does not support the “procedural rigor”, which is necessary to effectively administer the ORI’s mission.

Going Forward

 While Wright has declined to comment on the resignation or the letter, he has announced his intention to publish the daily log he kept during his time at the ORI after the expiration of his leave days and technical termination of his employment with the federal government in late March. Don Wright, another OASH official who is not related to David Wright, has been temporarily appointed as acting director of the ORI.