Report Summary

Title: Healthcare Inspection - Improper Conduct During Merit Review Proceedings
Report Number: 12-02317-144
Issue Date: 3/26/2013
VA Office: Veterans Health Administration (VHA)
Report Author: Office of Healthcare Inspections
Report Type: Healthcare Inspections
Release Type: Unrestricted
Summary: The VA Office of Inspector General Office of Healthcare Inspections reviewed allegations that a Merit Review Scientific Review Group (SRG) member (Dr. X) violated ethical standards of conduct by approaching other SRG members to seek support for his wife’s (Dr. Y’s) research proposal. We substantiated that Dr. X had a clear conflict of interest in this case yet he repeatedly attempted to influence other SRG members to score Dr. Y’s proposal favorably. Dr. X had a pattern of similar actions in the past.
While we did not evaluate whether Dr. Y’s proposal was inappropriately funded as a result of Dr. X’s efforts, Dr. X’s actions could have affected the Merit Review proceedings and subsequent funding decisions. As such, a review of Dr. Y’s ongoing grant award may be indicated. Further, Dr. X retains a 3-year approval (expiration date in 2014) to submit research proposals to VA Merit Review for possible funding. Because of his pattern of improper conduct, his eligibility for Federal research funding should be reconsidered.
The Office of Research and Development (ORD) has revised its guidance on reporting ethical breaches like those discussed in this report; however, SRG members may still be dissuaded from reporting ethical breaches due to concerns about retaliation. We recommended that ORD: (1) Conduct an Administrative Board of Investigation into this matter. (2) Evaluate existing policies and controls related to Merit Review SRG processes. The Under Secretary for Health concurred with our recommendations and provided an acceptable action plan. We will follow up on the planned actions until they are completed.