Some of the documents revealed by the lawsuit imply that the NIH's internal conflict-of-interest policing is largely devoted to finding missing forms. Further, they show that a number of NIH institutes appear to not have taken a single conflict-of-interest enforcement action against their employees since 2008. Yet the most revealing documents—ones that the NIH fought to keep hidden—have to do with what are known as waivers.
Under limited circumstances, the NIH can grant a waiver, which exempts a conflicted government employee (such as an advisory committee member) from ethics laws. I requested information about waivers that had been granted to several individuals sitting on NIH advisory committees, each of whom, I knew from the ProPublica database and other sources, had taken thousands of dollars from drug companies. I wanted to find out why the NIH was allowing these people to sit on committees despite a potential conflict—and, just as important, what the nature of those conflicts were.
This article was originally published with the title Is Drug Research Trustworthy?.