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Case from journal
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Reference no. JIACS12-01-11
Published by: Allied Business Academies
Published in: "Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies", 2006

Abstract

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), while government employees earning around $200,000, were consulting and serving on private firms’ scientific advisory boards. Although such practices were rare before the 1980s, they became increasingly common during the 1990s and into the twenty-first century. These practices raised concerns over perceived, and real, conflicts of interest, when the same firms received grants from (and did research with) the NIH. Defenders of the practice, however, suggested that the development of scientific knowledge was enhanced when research scientists had regular contact with private industry. Federal ethics guidelines did not prohibit federal employees from 'moonlighting' in their free time, but did place strict guidelines on such practices. The primary issue in the case is to 'nderstand the nature of conflicts of interest, conditions under which “knowledge sharing' can be appropriate, and when such actions can be inappropriate and potentially illegal. A second issue explores 'crisis management,' when the allegations of impropriety and conflict of interest are leveled at the NIH in December 2003. The director of the NIH has called for a review of all consulting arrangements and the establishment of a Blue Ribbon Panel, but there are concerns that this does not go far enough and that the NIH is trying to avoid seriously dealing with the situation. The primary audience for this case is a junior/senior course in Business Government and Society, or a Business Ethics course. The case would also be applicable in Public Administration classes, particularly where administrative ethics are discussed. The case might also prove of interest in a class on knowledge management issues in a graduate program. While both of the above identified issues should be addressed in any discussion, the instructor has discretion regarding which one should serve as the primary focus in a class. This note takes the perspective that students need to explore the positive and negative aspects of government scientists’ involvement with private industry, and potential exposure to real and perceived conflicts of interest. After this is understood, then appropriate responses to the concerns can be evaluated.

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Abstract

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), while government employees earning around $200,000, were consulting and serving on private firms’ scientific advisory boards. Although such practices were rare before the 1980s, they became increasingly common during the 1990s and into the twenty-first century. These practices raised concerns over perceived, and real, conflicts of interest, when the same firms received grants from (and did research with) the NIH. Defenders of the practice, however, suggested that the development of scientific knowledge was enhanced when research scientists had regular contact with private industry. Federal ethics guidelines did not prohibit federal employees from 'moonlighting' in their free time, but did place strict guidelines on such practices. The primary issue in the case is to 'nderstand the nature of conflicts of interest, conditions under which “knowledge sharing' can be appropriate, and when such actions can be inappropriate and potentially illegal. A second issue explores 'crisis management,' when the allegations of impropriety and conflict of interest are leveled at the NIH in December 2003. The director of the NIH has called for a review of all consulting arrangements and the establishment of a Blue Ribbon Panel, but there are concerns that this does not go far enough and that the NIH is trying to avoid seriously dealing with the situation. The primary audience for this case is a junior/senior course in Business Government and Society, or a Business Ethics course. The case would also be applicable in Public Administration classes, particularly where administrative ethics are discussed. The case might also prove of interest in a class on knowledge management issues in a graduate program. While both of the above identified issues should be addressed in any discussion, the instructor has discretion regarding which one should serve as the primary focus in a class. This note takes the perspective that students need to explore the positive and negative aspects of government scientists’ involvement with private industry, and potential exposure to real and perceived conflicts of interest. After this is understood, then appropriate responses to the concerns can be evaluated.

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