FDA Sued Over Resume Redactions
Defense, intelligence, national security; these are all aspects of the federal government where one expects to see redactions in information released to the general public. We are all familiar with images of government documents with words, paragraphs, or even entire pages redacted, or “blacked out.”
Most of these documents are obtained through what are called FOIA requests, or Freedom of Information Act requests. In 1966, the U.S. government established that information requested through proper channels that did not meet certain criteria related to sensitivity or the rights of citizens must be released to those citizens that request it. Even if part of a document meets the criteria for non-release, the rest of the document must be released with those sensitive parts redacted.
The FDA, however, has come under fire recently for redacting resumes of members of key committees responsible for determining the drugs and medical devices that are allowed to reach the market. And, when information about the redacted portions is requested via the Freedom of Information Act, those requests are being slowed with increasing frequency; in some cases taking so long to respond that the individual in question no longer serves on the committee.
This violation of federal mandate is, in and of itself, concerning. However, it becomes even more concerning when you consider the revolving door that exists at the FDA. Former committee members frequently find themselves in the executive suites of the same corporations – specifically big pharmaceutical companies – they were once tasked with policing. In other cases, corporate executives “bring their experience to the service of their government” by occupying committee seats and removing regulations seen as unfriendly to their industry’s, or former employer’s, goals.
The lawsuit filed against the FDA by watchdog group Public Citizen asserts that 92 percent of the resumes posted of the members of FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research advisory committees contained redactions of some sort. More than 98% of the resumes for members of the Center for Devices and Radiological Heath committees contained redactions.
In a letter claimed to have been received by Public Citizen from the FDA, the agency states that, by default, it redacts the following information from resumes:
- Non-government funded grants;
- Pending clinical trials;
- Pending publications;
- Dates degrees were conferred;
- Medical board and professional association certification numbers;
- Names of graduate or doctoral students supervised;
- Military service; and
- Information related to hobbies and outside activities.
Whether the FDA will be permitted to continue censoring the information of its committee members remains to be seen. One would have to expect, however, that the agency’s treatment of FOIA requests submitted by the citizens it serves would also come into question.