Lawmakers Investigate Irregular FDA Contract

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Rep. John D. Dingell (D-MI), chairman of the US House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), the chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, sent a letter to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), questioning the US Food and Drug Administration?s use of agency resources to hire an outside public-relations firm to create a positive public image of the agency.

Washington, DC (Oct. 2)-Rep. John D. Dingell (D-MI), chairman of the US House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), the chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, sent a letter to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), questioning the US Food and Drug Administration’s use of agency resources to hire an outside public-relations firm to create a positive public image of the agency. The lawmakers also are investigating whether FDA violated federal procurement and contracting laws in an arrangement with Alaska Newspapers, Inc. (ANI) and Qorvis Communications.

“This contract is yet another instance of FDA wasting precious agency resources,” Dingell said in a press release. “After a series of high-profile blunders in FDA’s inadequate effort to ensure food and drug safety, the agency chose to use its limited resources to save face instead of saving the public health. This recklessness affronts the American taxpayers and hard-working FDA employees,” he added.

“Even more serious than the waste of taxpayer dollars is the possibility that FDA might have violated numerous federal procurement and contracting laws during the execution of this contract,” said Stupak in a press release. “It is disturbing to see the extent to which a private company was intimately involved in the formation of a contract by a federal agency. It is clear that the prime contractor in this case was only used as a vehicle to steer the contract to the public-relations firm of FDA’s choosing.

The Committee sent letters to Michael O. Leavitt, secretary of HHS; Michael J. Petruzzello, managing partner of Qorvis; Carole Dunn, president of Red Team Consulting; and Matthew Nicolai, president and chief executive officer of Calista; to request information about how FDA decided to award ANI the contract on a sole-source basis and how Qorvis became a subcontractor. A careful review of records suggests that FDA and Qorvis worked together to intentionally circumvent federal contracting regulations, according to a Committee statement.

In a related story, on Sept. 30, 2008, FDA selected 10 contractors to receive a potential total of $2.5 billion for information-technology (IT) and data-center management services during the next 10 years. The contract is the foundation of FDA’s Information Technology for the 21st Century (ICT21) bioinformatics initiative, which is intended to update the agency’s IT infrastructure and IT security.

The contracts have a minimum value of $25,000 in orders per contractor and were awarded to Buccaneer (Warrenton, VA), Computer Sciences (Rockville, MD), Dynanet (Elkridge, MD), Electronic Data Systems (EDS, Herndon, VA), General Dynamics (Fairfax, VA), Human Touch (McLean, VA), IDL-Pragmatics (Vienna, VA), Interactive Technology Solutions (Silver Spring, MD), Telesis (Rockville, MD), and Unisys (Reston, VA).

The 10 contractors will compete for task orders through this contract, and FDA has awarded task orders to Interactive Technology Solutions, Buccaneer, and EDS. The task orders cover the design, implementation, and migration of existing FDA applications to the newly configured White Oak Data Center and to a contractor-owned and -operated hosted data center for FDA production operations.

All FDA software applications and hosting operations will be moved to the new data centers during a two-year period. The agency hopes the new data centers will provide enhanced computing power and greater responsiveness.

For more information, see the release posted on the website of the Committee on Energy and Commerce.