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Government Executive Editor in Chief Tom Shoop, along with other editors and staff correspondents, look at the federal bureaucracy from the outside in.

Now It's the FDA That's the 'Gestapo'

The actual Gestapo searches a German couple. The actual Gestapo searches a German couple. Wikipedia Commons
For months now, the Food and Drug Administration has been under investigation for monitoring the communications of some of its employees. The agency swears it was just looking into the possibility that some of its scientists had leaked confidential information about the safety of medical devices. Advocates for the scientists say this is a case of whistleblower retaliation against employees who had exposed flaws in the medical review process.

This weekend, The New York Times reported that the probe has gotten more complicated because some of the communications FDA officials reviewed involved exchanges with members of Congress and journalists. And those communications ended up being inadvertently posted on the Web.

The notion that the FDA had kept files on lawmakers documenting their interactions with the scientists, not surprisingly, has sent some senators and congressmen around the bend. 

FDA officials “have absolutely no business reading the private e-mails of their employees," Sen. Charles S. Grassley, R-Iowa, told the Times. They think they can be the Gestapo and do anything they want.”

There are plenty of people who agree with Grassley that the FDA overstepped here. But maybe it's time to declare a moratorium on Gestapo references when it comes to federal agencies -- if for no other reason than they're getting a little stale. How about at least spicing it up by throwing around  "KGB" or "Stasi" now and then? 

Tom Shoop is vice president and editor in chief at Government Executive Media Group, where he oversees both print and online editorial operations. He started as associate editor of Government Executive magazine in 1989; launched the company’s flagship website, GovExec.com, in 1996; and was named editor in chief in 2007.

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