Fmr. ORI Director David Wright

The Director of the Office of Research Integrity (ORI), David Wright (no relation), has resigned. His resignation letter reads as a comprehensive indictment of the federal bureaucracy which he worked for and called “remarkably dysfunctional” raising questions over the future of American research and innovation.

Wright had the job for 2 years and came to the post well qualified previously being a consultant to ORI as well as a historian of science at Michigan State University in East Lansing. He said one of his goals upon taking the job was to improve training programs. But what he encountered once taking his post frustrated him immensely.

In a letter to Dr. Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary for Health at the Department of Health and Human Services, Wright detailed his frustrations:

The rest of my role as ORI Director has been the very worst job I have ever had and it occupies up to 65% of my time. That part of the job is spent navigating the remarkably dysfunctional HHS bureaucracy to secure resources and, yes, get permission for ORI to serve the research community. I knew coming into this job about the bureaucratic limitations of the federal government, but I had no idea how stifling it would be…

The academic literature over the last twenty-five years on successful organizations highlights several characteristics: transparency, power-sharing or shared decision-making and accountability.  If you invert these principles, you have an organization (OASH in this instance), which is secretive, autocratic and unaccountable.

ORI is charged with monitoring research and searching for misconduct by those researchers that are funded by Public Health Service Agencies such as the National Institute of Health (NIH). Research misconduct can have incredibly deleterious consequences, especially in the biomedical research field which Wright oversaw. ORI’s duty, while not especially sexy, is important if you value advancements in medicine and human knowledge.

A “secretive, autocratic, and unaccountable” organization is not what you want in this instance by a long shot. Wright closed by saying he was not just upset as a manager but as a taxpayer for how poorly ORI functions.

In closing, these twenty-six months of service as the Director of ORI have been a remarkable experience.  As I wrote earlier in this letter, working with the research community and the remarkable scientist-investigators at ORI has been the best job I’ve ever had.  As for the rest, I’m offended as an American taxpayer that the federal bureaucracy—at least the part I’ve labored in—is so profoundly dysfunctional.  I’m hardly the first person to have made that discovery, but I’m saddened by the fact that there is so little discussion, much less outrage, regarding the problem.

President Obama has claimed “Winning The Future” is a key part of his administration’s agenda which includes “out-innovating” other countries.That to excel in the global economy America has to lead the way in research and development of new technologies and knowledge.

If this resignation is any indication about how America is doing research the future of innovation looks rather dim.

Image from Office of Research Integrity under public domain.