August 30, 2016

"The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) in Rockville, Maryland, which guards against misconduct in biomedical research, usually attracts attention with its findings, not its internal workings."

Science: But 2 years ago, its director, David Wright, quit in a public huff, complaining that ORI was hobbled by a dysfunctional federal bureaucracy. by By Jocelyn Kaiser

'Now, his successor is encountering her own rough waters, Science has learned.

'Kathryn Partin, who took the helm of ORI in December 2015, has launched a top-to-bottom review of the office, which has been criticized for moving too slowly and meting out sanctions that lack teeth. She has also brought in an investigator from the National Science Foundation (NSF) as her acting deputy director, a possible sign that she wishes to expand ORI's powers to mirror those of the research integrity division within NSF's Office of Inspector General, which can issue subpoenas, for example (see table, below). But in one of several letters of protest to Partin's superiors at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), many of ORI's investigative staff recently expressed "profound concern about the tone and direction" she has taken. They contend that Partin does not fully understand ORI's regulatory constraints and is unjustifiably seeking to replace ORI's two division directors, whose departure, they write, would be a "disaster." John Dahlberg, who before retiring last year was ORI's deputy director, says that his former office "seems to be falling apart."

'Whether the quarrel is more than a new boss challenging an old guard resistant to change is hard to resolve. Partin and her superiors have declined to comment on the staff turmoil or on specific plans for change. "We are focused on examining all of our processes, and all of the ways we can support institutions in their investigations," the former neuroscientist told Science in her first interview since taking over.'

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