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‘Key to Revolving Door’: FDA Tells Staff Who Leave for Pharma Jobs They Can Work ‘Behind the Scenes’ to Influence Agency



The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) informs departing workers that they can still influence the agency’s decision-making after leaving their position to work for the pharmaceutical industry, a new investigation by The BMJ revealed.

According to an internal email obtained by The BMJ, the FDA told departing staffer Doran Fink, M.D., Ph.D. — who had reviewed COVID-19 vaccines while working at the FDA and who had accepted a job at Moderna — that although U.S. law prohibits some forms of lobbying contact between former FDA workers who leave to join the private sector, they “do not prohibit the former employee from other activities, including working ‘behind the scenes.’”

Peter Doshi, Ph.D., who wrote The BMJ’s July 1 report, told The Defender he was surprised to see “just how proactive FDA is at informing departing employees of their ability to work behind the scenes post-FDA.”

Doshi is a senior editor at The BMJ and associate professor of pharmaceutical health services research at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy.

He said the FDA’s ethics program staff emailed the information to Fink as he was completing his FDA exit requirements.

“I was even more surprised,” Doshi said, “to learn that the phrase ‘behind-the-scenes assistance’ actually appears in U.S. regulations.”

U.S. law forbids direct lobbying contact between former regulatory staff and federal agencies — but it allows indirect contact. “I’ve yet to hear an argument for how this serves the public interest,” Doshi said.

The fact that the legal ability to work “behind the scenes” is woven into federal regulations highlights a “critical, critical loophole” in U.S. revolving door policy, according to Craig Holman, Ph.D., a government affairs lobbyist for the consumer advocacy nonprofit Public Citizen who was interviewed for The BMJ’s report.

“So, people will leave government service and can immediately start doing influence peddling and lobbying,” Holman said. “They can even run a lobbying campaign, as long as they don’t actually pick up the telephone and make the contact with their former officials — and that’s exactly the advice that’s being given here.”

Holman told The Defender the legally sanctioned revolving door between U.S. regulators and the industries they regulate is “the most pernicious influence-peddling scheme available to wealthy special interests.”

“The prospects of lucrative private employment after public service can influence official actions by regulators,” he explained. “And the inside connections within the regulatory agency by the revolver [the person leaving federal service to work for industry] gives the business community a strong advantage over influencing upcoming regulatory actions…


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