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There's a generational element to the failure of the Obama administration's much-hyped agenda to increase transparency at government agencies like FDA, where reform has been submerged by bureaucratic resistance.
Restrictions on access to public information in government agencies began secretly infiltrating official Washington 12-15 years ago; today they are a virtual straitjacket on what can be known. Efforts to gain access now run into the age barrier. If you're under 35-45 you've known nothing else and think the status quo is the way it's meant to be.
Washington's Politico reported in March that President Obama quietly accepted a “transparency” award from the open government community—in a closed, undisclosed meeting at the White House. The people who presented the award doubtless belong to the same youthful generation who apparently saw the President's inaugural “open government” messages to federal offices as laudable landmarks, without checking to verify their effectiveness two years later.
As this blissful bout of inside-the-Beltway celebrations among mutually inter-dependent back-slappers was going on, FDA announced the departure after one year of its beleaguered associate commissioner for external affairs, Beth Martino.
Her time at the agency had seen a rising chorus of protests from (older) journalists about FDA press office “censorship” and a ban on advance research among outside experts when the agency issues an embargoed news release. She stunned protesting journalists by telling them: “I haven't heard any complaints.” In Washington, the hear-only-what-you-want-to-hear crowd is in charge.
James G. Dickinson is editor of Dickinson's FDA Webview (
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