Revolving door: Study reveals over half of CDC employees end up working in pharmaceutical industry

A new study has exposed the “revolving door” between government agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and the private sector.

Published in Health Affairs, the study found that “[m]ore than half of appointees at the CDC, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Office of the Deputy Secretary went straight to industry after completing their service,” as reported by Axios.

Regarding the CDC, “while 8% of CDC appointees came from industry, 54% left directly for industry jobs,” i.e., jobs in the pharmaceutical industry.

“The sheer scale of the revolving door that we have identified … is troubling and merits further scrutiny,” the researchers wrote, according to Fierce Healthcare.

“The risks posed to the functioning of and public trust in HHS warrants study into how these government-industry flows are affecting agency decision-making, especially in offices with the highest net exit rates,” they added.

The only good news is that currently, according to the Daily Mail, “government ex-employees must wait one year after leaving these health agencies before lobbying or having ‘any communication to or appearance before any officer or employee of their former agency on behalf of anyone seeking official action.'”

The rule requiring the one-year wait is known as a “cooling-off” law.

But the researchers behind the study say this isn’t enough.

Prof. Genevieve Kanter of the University of Southern California, one of the study’s co-authors, said she was “really concerned” about “whether the personnel flow might lead to biases in government decision making.”

She added that current “cooling-off laws” don’t last long enough and are too narrow in scope.

“They do not broadly cover a lot of lobbying related to agency decision making – like regulations and drug authorizations — so they don’t necessarily deter that behavior. The direction one might go is to expand the cooling off laws. But that’s a blunt instrument for a lot of subtle things that might be going on in terms of the effects of the revolving door,” she said.

Dovetailing back to the study, it did find that Republican presidents “were more likely to appoint individuals directly from industry (18% versus 11%),” as reported by Fierce Healthcare.

Conversely, it found that exit rates to industry “did not differ substantially” based on who was president.

“More likely predictors were changes in administration (25% versus 36%) and whether the individual had previously been employed in the private sector (30% versus 41%), according to the study,” Fierce Healthcare notes.

The researchers also found that the overall exit-to-industry rate inside the United States Department of Health and Human Services was notably higher than the exit-to-industry rate observed within the Department of Defense.

What’s clear from this, the researchers argued, is that “there is value added to HHS positions that makes appointees attractive to industry.”

And while that value could be because of the candidates’ experience and contacts, it could also be because of “the potential influence that these appointees can exert on former colleagues post-departure, or [the] favorable actions taken before departure, that could compromise agency decision making.”

As to how the study was completed, it reportedly involved LinkedIn.

“The researchers built their analysis on post-election publications of the so-called Plum Book, which details the staffing of all federal positions open to noncompetitive appointment,” according to Fierce Healthcare.

“The researchers then manually matched the names in these records to corresponding LinkedIn profiles to identify employers during the two years immediately before and after their appointments, which they said yielded usable histories for 766 of the 807 people appointed under the Bush Jr., Obama and Trump administrations.”


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Vivek Saxena


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