FDA Media Department Ejects Those with Most Media Experience

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Michael Causey
In FDA Regulated Industries

Michael Causey, Editor & Publisher, eDataIntegrityReport.com

When Beth Martino became FDA’s Associate Commissioner for External Affairs in March, long-time journalist and public affairs expert Ira Allen followed the advice given by George Strait, who hired him (and whom Martino replaced), and by veteran staffer Mike Herndon, recently named Martino’s deputy, to do his job by the book and to keep his head down.

As we’ve recently blogged, Martino has seven years work experience, none of it at FDA until she was named to her post. She has worked with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in the past, and current and former FDAers speculate that’s how she got the FDA job. Arguably, there were many other internal (and probably external) candidates who claimed a much stronger pedigree for the Associate Commissioner slot.

Sometimes that’s just how Washington works. It can be less about what you did and more about whom you know. It goes way back to President Andy Jackson who is credited with creating the Spoils System. George Washington probably did it, too, they just didn’t have a formal name for it yet.

Back to the FDA in 2010.

As soon as incoming Martino took over, things began to change quickly. “After Beth arrived, I was more amused than anything by her lack of management, and at the end I was sickened by the way she handled things,” Ira Allen, 62, recalled.

While Martino had every right to fire Allen from his Public Affairs Officer post without cause (because he had not yet worked at the agency for a full year) she chose to handle it differently, according to Allen. “On a Thursday evening, she sent me what looked like a routine request to drop by her office the next morning.” Turns out, it wasn’t routine.

Allen continues, “The next morning, she emailed me to postpone by 15 minutes, and a little while later her other deputy, Heidi Rebello, casually dropped by my office to postpone it until the next Tuesday (following Columbus Day holiday), citing ‘a schedule conflict.’”

Allen then handled a three-day weekend “on call” duty and finally met with Beth and Heidi for what he calls the “coup de grace”. She handed him a resignation form that had been dated on Friday, Oct. 8, and crossed out and replaced by Oct. 12.

It got worse.

Rather than just say she wanted to make a change, which again was her right as the new boss, Martino chose to call into question the competence of a person who’d been in journalism or public affairs for 40 years. “I am well known and well thought of in the national press corps where I once worked, and without any supporting evidence, she questioned my competence.” Allen told us.

He says he fully understands if Martino just wanted to make a change. What he doesn’t understand is why she chose to question his ability, and then have an intern escort Allen out of the building. “It began to dawn on me that this is part of what I had heard is about the norm for this [Obama] administration’s devotion to hope, change, transparency and openness.”

But at least Martino has been consistent in her mini-purge of her department. In several cases where she could simply make a personnel change without any fuss, she’s chosen to instead call into question the capabilities of the senior staffer she was tossing out.

As media reports and former staffers have said earlier, Martino also dumped seasoned Public Affairs Officers Elaine Gansz Bobo, 52, on the same day Allen was dismissed, and Dick Thompson, 65, a former Time magazine science editor, and reportedly challenged their competency, too. Prior to joining FDA, Bobo served as Deputy Vice President, Communications and Public Affairs at Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

“I’m not feeling too warm and fuzzy about this Administration right now,” Bobo told us. “For a team that’s supposedly trying to create jobs, stimulate the economy, and encourage more experienced workers to join the federal ranks, FDA’s handling of this situation smells rotten.”

Future managers take note; this ain’t no way to lead a department and attract strong experienced talent.

Editor’s Note: I haven’t had anything I’ve written banned since high school when a slightly off-color skit was deemed inappropriate for the talent show…until now. My last two blogs about the OPA hiring situation have just been deleted off the agency’s Facebook page. As of Friday Dec. 10, however, you can still find posts accusing the agency of being bribed by drug companies and of spreading false information, and one that says simply “The FDA should close.”

Prior entries on this issue:

Ousted Personnel Lament ‘Politicizing’ of FDA Public Affairs Office

FDA to Experience: Drop Dead

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