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US Issues New Policy on Misconduct

December 7, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The White House issued a new policy on misconduct Wednesday that establishes uniform guidelines for all federally financed research programs.

The policy, developed by the National Science and Technology Council, stipulates that informants who alert officials to potential misconduct should be protected against retaliation.

At the same time, people who are accused of misconduct should receive details of the allegations in writing and an opportunity to respond, the policy says.

Federal agencies have one year to implement the rules, the White House said.

Federal officials have had an uneven history of dealing with misconduct allegations and monitoring the spending of billions of research dollars.

In one high-profile case, the Food and Drug Administration found that University of Pennsylvania researchers failed to properly report side effects and had no outside monitors in a gene therapy experiment that led to the death of Jesse Gelsinger, 18, last year.

But researchers also have been wrongly accused of misconduct. A researcher who was charged with scientific fraud and was the target of investigations and congressional hearings for more than a decade was cleared in 1996.

Thereza Imanishi-Kari had been accused of falsifying data in a genetic research paper that was co-authored by Nobel laureate David Baltimore.

The federal government’s new policy defines misconduct as knowingly or recklessly fabricating, falsifying or plagiarizing research.

Once an allegation is made, an agency is to conduct an inquiry to determine if a fuller investigation is needed. Records can be kept secret and are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act during the investigation.

The policy says of the accused: ``The mere filing of an allegation of research misconduct against them will not bring their research to a halt or be the basis for other disciplinary or adverse action absent other compelling reasons.″

Criminal or civil-fraud misconduct would be referred to appropriate authorities; misconduct short of that could bring letters of reprimand, suspension or termination of the program.

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