FDA continues to come under fire for its questionable no-bid contract with public relations firm Qorvis Communications. FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach was the recipient of separate letters from the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the US Senate in less than a week.
According to a letter dated November 10, FDA struck up a $300,000 deal with Alaska Newspapers (ANI) in an effort to work with its subcontractor, Qorvis, a firm that has established relationships with agency officials. The Washington Post, which broke the story in October, explained that ANI was originally approached because, as a minority-owned firm, it did not have to compete for a contract. However, the plan from the beginning was to eventually use Qorvis as the point company for FDA’s public relations work. Qorvis, which also represents PhRMA, would have had to beat out competing firms with lower bids to gain the contract if it had vied for it outright.
“We are concerned that FDA officials entered into this contract with ANI as subterfuge for the purpose of receiving services from Qorvis as an ANI subcontractor, which appears to have effectively bypassed a fair and transparent contracting process,” Senators Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) stated in the letter.
In a letter from the House committee, sent on Monday, Reps. John D. Dingell (D-MI), chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Bart Stupak (D-MI), chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, recognized that FDA met with the committee to explain how the contract came to be, and that the deal had been suspended.
“This short meeting, however, raised more questions than were answered, in part because key FDA employees associated with the contract were not present at the meeting,” the chairmen stated. “In addition, FDA has yet to produce all records and deliverables related to the contract requested by the committee.”
The committee is now demanding that all parties involved be interviewed, including the commissioner’s Chief of Staff Susan Winckler, Senior Communications Adviser Mildred Cooper, and a handful of others. All records associated with the contract are also to be submitted to the committee by November 21.
“This contract is intended ‘to foster a positive public image of the agency for the American public,’ Dingell and Stupak cited in a letter from October 2. “Instead of spending the money to protect the nation from unsafe food, drugs, and medical devices, it appears FDA has decided to spend it elsewhere. Needless to say, the committee views this practice as unacceptable.”