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FDA Purges Press Office Of Older Employees
  By Ed Silverman // December 6th, 2010 // 9:45 am
too-oldOh, to be young. And that appears to be a requirement to work in the FDA press office, at least according to FDA Webview, which reports that FDA associate commish for external affairs Beth Martino, who is a 31-year-old former Kansas aide to HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius, is purging senior specialists who are 50 and older.
The moves were described as abrupt and undertaken to make room for younger people closer to her age. Three of those let go: Elaine Gansz Bobo, 52, Dick Thompson, 65, and Ira Allen, 62, who were told they could be terminated as probationary hires for "incompetence" or resign, FDA Webview writes. Bobo and Allen had to immediately clean out their desks and were escorted off the premises, while Thompson, a former Time magazine Washington bureau science editor and high-level WHO communications advisor in Geneva, was told to find other work outside of FDA.
A fourth staffer, deputy director of web communications Donna Avallone, 62, is a career employee who was stripped of her title and reassigned by a new Martino appointee, Carl Chitwood, who FDA Webview writes is 37 years old. A fifth person, public affairs officer Tom Gasparoli, 55, reportedly resigned voluntarily six months ago, soon after Martino arrived. The dismissed employees, except for Avallone, had been hired late last year by assistant commissioner for public affairs George Strait, who was reassigned to an undescribed job in the press office after Martino arrived, the web site continues.
We have written Martino for a response and will update you if one is received.
Meanwhile, on his own blog, Allen recently wrote that "it is now five weeks after leaving what I thought would be a career capstone job at FDA. Last November, a fairly new public affairs chief at the agency whom I had known from both journalism and health advocacy hired me along with five other experienced hands to bulk up the media relations staff. The job was stressful but good, requiring me to absorb a lot of new knowledge and deal with several crises a day. I got on well the boss, and was told that whatever I needed to understand, I would pick up within the one-year probationary period and that no one fails that test unless they violate the law.
"However, he was moved aside in favor of a 30-year-old political operative whose previous job was press secretary to the governor of Kansas, now the HHS secretary. The new boss had no big-league experience, no managerial experience and no warmth. Remote was not only her typical work venue but her style of management, communicating with us line troops rarely and then mostly by emails that second-guessed everything.
"So as I recognized things were going to be difficult, I started asking around and received assurances from my closest colleagues and mentors that I was doing fine and not to worry. Then one day I was called to my boss' office and given two pieces of paper. A notice of termination and a resignation. Choose, I was told, and choose right then. To add insult to the injury, she cited fabricated, unspecified instances of my incompetence after 40 years in the business. She did not need to do that because the government has the right to terminate anyone on probation for no reason.
"I was not alone. Four of us over 50 years of age were ousted, called incompetent and apparently replaced with cheaper, younger acolytes. They and the excellent civil servants who remain - and they are the finest coworkers I have ever had - have now gotten the message. None of the four of us who were in disfavor made waves or did anything but approach the job professionally. But we were not hired by her, so we became expendable."
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