Senator Grassley: Again to the Rescue

Once again, there is a bad taste in the mouth over FDA’s appetite for whistleblowing. In posh sections of Virginia Beach, one might not have known that the FDA’s top criminal investigator was allegedly conducting high profile criminal investigations.

For one thing, a home office might not be quite as secure as a federal office building.

Iowa’s senior senator, Chuck Grassley (R), has disclosed a whistleblower’s allegation that the number one investigator for FDA’s criminal enforcement section, Terry Vermillion, has been acting beyond the safe scope of his employment. Besides the allegation of an unauthorized telecommute, Vermillion was also charged with specific instances of “alteration of internal agency reports,” and additional misconduct.

Vermillion announced his resignation over the 2010 Thanksgiving holidays (The Wall Street Journal, November 24, 2010). Vermillion, whose branch has been investigating allegations of doping in professional bicycle racing, reportedly refused any comment on the high-profile whistle blower’s anonymous allegations.

Grassley received the anonymous letter in September, but chose to begin an initially private investigation before pushing ahead with a more formal investigation. It was unclear as to whether additional data had been received from the anonymous whistle blower. Vermillion’s branch was large, even by Washington insider standards: Vermillion’s salary was $200,000 annually, and had grown to more than 200 employees with a $41 million budget.

Interestingly, in a pattern not uncommon among qui tam cases. The CI unit had been feeling heat for two years. In 2008, Senate and House Republicans criticized the unit for over-emphasizing drug cases, instead of corporate misconduct. And early in 2010, the GAO criticized the lack of “accountability” over Vermilion’s—a former secret service agent– activities.

When it comes to whistleblowing, a fine art has emerged in the Nation’s Capitol. Some critics, however, are concerned the process is becoming more opera than openness.