Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is demanding answers from the FDA about allegations it monitored email of employees who were whistle-blowers. (Mandel Ngan / AFP via Getty Images)
Sen. Charles Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is demanding answers from the Food and Drug Administration about allegations that it monitored the email of employees who were whistle-blowers.
In a five-page letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg on Tuesday, Grassley sharply criticized the agency for its treatment of former FDA biomedical engineer Paul Hardy. Hardy is one of nine employees who expressed concerns to the incoming Obama administration and Congress that FDA had approved unsafe medical devices, the letter says.
"It's troubling to me to see your agency actively pursue the dismissal of an employee against the advice of the OSC [Office of Special Counsel]," Grassley wrote. "FDA appears to have attempted to retaliate" against Hardy in response to his "protected disclosures to Congress."
Hardy and five other current and former employees filed a lawsuit Jan. 25 in U.S. District Court of Washington, claiming that top FDA managers monitored and seized emails from their personal Gmail and Yahoo accounts for at least two years. Documents they obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and other means show that FDA began monitoring electronic conversations in 2009, which they say was triggered by their correspondence with incoming administration officials, according to the lawsuit.
FDA fired two employees and did not renew contracts for two others. Two other employees still work at FDA.
"The federal government has a right to monitor what goes on on government computers, and we are not arguing that point," a Grassley aide said in an interview. "The circumstances under which and how they monitored is what we are calling into question."
Grassley set a Feb. 17 deadline for FDA to respond to 10 questions, including:
• Did the FDA monitor all email accounts, including personal email accounts, or was monitoring targeted only at the whistle-blowers?
• Who authorized the monitoring of the whistle-blowers' email accounts for communications with Congress?
• Is FDA currently monitoring any employee email accounts, and what are the circumstances surrounding the monitoring?