Washington Post’s front page is running an article today about how different top dogs at the Food and Drug Administration receive substantial bonuses for, well, not doing their jobs (and for making sure they don’t not do them elsewhere).
Of course, they probably picked the most egregious case to focus on: an employee with the strong credentials of an English major who’d joined the FDA in 2003 as Assistant Commissioner for Counterterrorism Policy and received $44,614 in bonuses (not salary, bonuses) last year, or about 20 times what the FDA investigator who won the agency’s top national award last year received. Truth is, the top dogs are giving themselves up to 25% of their salaries in bonuses and throwing scraps to the researchers who protect us. (The kicker is they are still free to leave the agency even if they get these kickbacks.) And herein lies the real story the Washington Post mentions only in passing: safety.
Here’s the single paragraph in the article addressing the bonuses.
“The bonuses were paid during a rough patch at the FDA, encompassing a shortage of flu vaccine and embarrassing recalls of the pain-relieving drug Vioxx and malfunctioning heart defibrillators. Throughout, the agency repeatedly insisted that it lacked the resources to conduct adequate food and drug inspections.”
The entire premise of the bonuses is to retain talent that would otherwise work on the other side of the legal fence, i.e. the pharmaceutical companies where significant profits are made. I’m indifferent about whether or not these bonuses should not simply be part of the researchers’ pay. What chaps my hide is when self-dealing kickbacks keep regulatory agencies and their employees from being able do their jobs. The competition with mega-drug firms isn’t about salaries; it’s about your, my, and our loved ones’ safety.