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Bridge to Somewhere: FDA Uses Alaska Corp. in Questioned Contract

POSTED: 12:05 PM ET, 10/ 2/2008 by The Editors

The Food and Drug Administration wanted a way to respond to a wave of criticism last year. So it sought to hire a public relations firm to run a public awareness campaign that would "create and foster a lasting positive public image of the agency for the American public," according to agency documents.

An examination of that effort by Washington Post reporter Robert O'Harrow Jr., including interviews with those involved and a review of dozens of internal e-mails, found that the agency did an end-run around federal competition requirements designed to protect taxpayers.

Instead of seeking multiple bids, the agency decided to direct the work to a Washington D.C. firm with ties to the FDA official organizing the public relations campaign. To get around competition requirements, the agency decided to hire as the prime contractor Alaska Newspapers Inc., an Alaska native corporation that qualifies for federal set-asides.

On Monday, days after O'Harrow spelled out his findings for the agency, FDA officials announced they had suspended the contract, launched an internal review and requested an outside investigation.

"The FDA has put a hold on all activities under this contract pending the outcome of the reviews and is prepared to take any corrective action if necessary," said the statement Monday by John Dyer, FDA's deputy commissioner for operations and chief operating officer. "Whatever the findings are on this one contract, the FDA has full confidence in the integrity of its contracting procedures as verified by independent third party reviews conducted several times a year."

This is the second Post investigation involving Alaska native corporations. Four years ago, O'Harrow and Scott Higham wrote about $500 million awarded by U.S. Customs and Border Protect directly to a native Alaska company called Chenega Technology.

More on the story at our sister blog, Government Inc.

By The Editors |  October 2, 2008; 12:05 PM ET Post Investigations
Previous: Bailout, FDA Skirts Rules, Fed Mum on Bear Stearns Deal | Next: Judge Says Trial Against Stevens Will Continue

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