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When an Investigator Knocks on Your Door

The last Congress was dominated by the economy, health reform and the election campaign. Congressional oversight and investigations (O&I) never gained much traction. So far this year, appropriations and budget have dominated Washington. Not much other work has been done.

FDA Matters thinks this will change soon. Without money to spend on new programs and no interest in legislating new regulations, most committees have little else to do other than O&I.  As a result, FDA and FDA-regulated industries can expect a lot of attention from Congressional investigators. Even without Congressional prodding, FDA, the Department of Justice, and Inspector Generals are likely to be doing more investigations.

Despite what most FDA-regulated companies will tell you, they are not well-prepared to be investigated.  When an investigator knocks on their door, they either pay too little attention or go instantly into crisis mode. Neither is likely to be appropriate or in the company’s best interest.

To find the best response, companies need to understand who’s doing the investigating and how they view the situation.

If you did something that FDA program staff or inspection/enforcements staffs considers “wrong,” then the best response is to admit it forthrightly (if true) and act quickly to undo your mistake or clarify the situation. FDA is more likely to work with you to resolve a problem if they feel you have been cooperative, honest and contrite. It always amazes me how few companies seem to respond this way and instead take a defensive posture.

It is altogether different if you are under investigation by a Congressional Committee or FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, the HHS Inspector General, the Department of Justice, or US Attorneys. Generally, their investigators live in a world of black and white, neatly divided between good guys and bad guys.

Unlike program staff and inspectors at FDA, it rarely occurs to these investigators that intent, extraneous events or misunderstandings might provide reasons to temper their judgments. Dealing with such nuances is not part of their job.

I saw the contrast as a legislative staffer in the Senate who also spent time with investigators. My world was painted in shades of gray; their world in black and white.  Most people in FDA-regulated industries are like me. The constant search for bad guys is not part of their jobs or temperament. Few have insight or experience in dealing with investigators with a different world view.

Because Congressional, civil and criminal investigators see the world in blacks and whites, it is never a positive experience to be sitting across the table from them. All company options are likely to be bad, including public humiliation, civil liability and criminal prosecution. Exoneration is a remote possibility, even if you fervently believe you have done nothing wrong.

FDA-regulated companies can (and should) limit their exposure to such situations through systematic preparations. Companies need to be able to review and monitor their own actions at a very granular level. A level of transparency is required that makes most companies nervous. Even more difficult for corporate culture: prompt action to dismiss any employees who violate company rules and any supervisors who looked the other way. No exceptions can be made, even if it includes someone from the executive suites.

Companies that follow this path are less likely to become the target of an investigation. Even if investigated, a company that can document strict programs–prospectively initiated and rigorously enforced—will usually do much better than one promising “never to do it again.” A pre-existing company commitment to tough enforcement may be the only way to get an investigator to consider your alleged wrongdoing in shades of gray, rather than black and white.



FDA and Election 2010: Oversight and Investigations        November 13th, 2010

President Obama’s election and the distraction of health reform have distracted us from the disruption that divided government imposes on FDA. With the new Republican majority, the agency will find itself buffeted by political forces that are as concerned about "scoring points" as they are about improving government. FDA Matters thinks this will have a large impact on FDA, as well as the agency’s stakeholders. Read the rest of this entry


Will the New Congress Be Good for FDA-Regulated Industries?   December 19th, 2010


FDA Matters is hearing that FDA-regulated industries will benefit from the 2010 election. It is assumed that a Republican-led House and more Republicans in the Senate will benefit drug, device and food companies. After all, aren’t Republicans more business-friendly and more concerned about perceived regulatory excess?


Those saying and thinking these things may be in for a rude awakening. Even worse, they may find themselves nostalgic for the “good old days” (whenever those were). Everybody—FDA, industry, patients and consumers—is going to have a rough time over the next two years. Industry will be heard more often, but not always have the winning position. Read the rest of this entry





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