FDA Conflict-of-Interest Concerns Examined
The Los Angeles Times on Tuesday examined potential conflict-of-interest issues that arise when spouses or relatives of government officials work for companies that stand to benefit from government contracts. The Times profiles the case of Margaret Burnette, a senior FDA information technology official, and her spouse, Mark Boster, a consultant who later became chief operating officer and an executive vice president of a company that held a contract with Burnette's office.
According to the Times, "FDA's handling of the matter illustrates how a small but well-positioned contractor gained a foothold -- and how conflict-of-interest restraints are only as strict as the officials who enforce them."
Burnette became an IT director at FDA in April 2004, shortly after she and Boster married. Around the same time, Boster became a paid adviser for Platinum Solutions, a Virginia-based technology company, the Times reports.
In mid-2004, Burnette raised objections to an FDA contract with ProObject -- a Maryland-based technology company that was developing a data system to process applications from medical device makers -- and directed her deputy to contact Platinum Solutions. FDA awarded the contract to Platinum Solutions, which was eligible to win federal contracts without competition because it was recognized as a "disadvantaged, woman-owned company," the Times reports.
Burnette said her involvement in the matter was approved by her supervisor, James Rinaldi, and other FDA officials. Rinaldi said that in late 2004 he indicated to Burnette that she was not supposed to participate "in anything that has to do with the project, in terms of dealing with that project, in terms of dealing with that contractor or in decisions about what work that contractor does."
He said that he was not aware that Boster was paid for his work for Platinum Solutions. Burnette said that in June 2005 she ended her involvement in the project because Boster had become chief operating officer at Platinum Solutions.
According to the Times, federal law prohibits officials from participating "personally and substantially" in matters that involve their financial interest (Willman/Roche, Los Angeles Times, 12/19).