The PHS plans to merge OSI into its own Office of Scientific Integrity Review. The combined office will be responsible for dealing with allegations of research misconduct in all research supported or performed by PHS agencies.
The PHS also announced recently that it plans to modify the procedure for investigating research misconduct. One change is to afford an individual an opportunity to request an independent hearing by a panel appointed by the Health and Human Services Departmental Appeal Board when the PHS proposes to make a finding of research misconduct. The PHS also will separate the investigative and adjudicative functions, provide an accused access to its evidence and witnesses, and give the accused the right to an attorney throughout the proceedings and an opportunity to present witnesses and evidence in rebuttal of the charges.
Thus, the PHS is tidying up its procedural elements, thereby decreasing the possibility that findings of research misconduct will be reversed on grounds of unfairness. This will effect research professionals in several ways. The first is salutary in that researchers will have more input into the investigatory process. The second is a corollary to the first: investigations will consume much more of researchers' time and money. While researchers should be less likely to be found guilty during unfair proceedings, the OSI is likely to concentrate on cases based on the violation of technical regulations. (The courts give considerable deference to agencies when they are enforcing technical rules.)
With the exception of congressional inquisitions, (there is no equivalent to the APA to assure that congress plays fair), past OSI investigations have been relatively collegial. This will change as the process is "lawyerized". To prepare for the future, research professionals should be tidying up their defenses by establishing professional standards for their conduct, and insisting on compliance by troublemakers.
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