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Vol. LXVI, No. 17
August 15, 2014
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NIEHS Laughs Its Way into Ethical Compliance

EPA’s Justina Fugh mixes humor with straight talk about the responsibilities of federal employees engaging in outside activities, such as serving on boards. “If you’re confused, ask your ethics office first,” she advised. With their spoof of the Johnny Cash ballad I Walk the Line, NIEHS director Dr. Linda Birnbaum and ethics chief Bruce Androphy set the tone for the fast-paced program.

At left, EPA’s Justina Fugh mixes humor with straight talk about the responsibilities of federal employees engaging in outside activities, such as serving on boards. “If you’re confused, ask your ethics office first,” she advised. At right, with their spoof of the Johnny Cash ballad I Walk the Line, NIEHS director Dr. Linda Birnbaum and ethics chief Bruce Androphy set the tone for the fast-paced program.

Photos: Steve McCaw

NIEHS recently held its fifth annual Ethics Day with a refreshing mix of tunes, funny yet instructional videos, good-natured competition and serious talk about ethical conduct.

“It is really a very special way for us to come together and focus on some ethics issues and have some fun,” said NIEHS and NTP director Dr. Linda Birnbaum. “We are the only institute at NIH to have such an event, and it has been cited by [NIH principal deputy director] Dr. Larry Tabak as a best practice.”

Birnbaum and Bruce Androphy, head of the NIEHS Ethics Office, opened the program with an Ethics Day tradition—a song with original, ethics-oriented lyrics, sung to the tune of Johnny Cash’s I Walk the Line. The ditty ended with a comic reference to the deadline for filing the annual financial disclosure, Office of Government Ethics Form 278—“’Cause I’m on time, I pay no fine.”

They continued another tradition with the Ethics Quiz Bowl, dividing the audience into teams that competed for points—not prizes—by answering questions about government ethics.

The first keynote speaker, Justina Fugh, senior counsel for ethics at the Environmental Protection Agency, built her presentation around “Ethical Rules of the Road,” using a traffic metaphor to discuss rules governing participation in outside activities in official vs. personal capacities.

Fugh seasoned her talk with humor, but her message was important—“Stay in your own lane, signal your intentions clearly and consult with your ethics officials.”

The second keynote was given by NIH deputy director for science, outreach and policy Dr. Kathy Hudson, who spoke via video on “NIH Ethics and Policy Priorities.” She described the NIH response to ongoing ethical controversies over the protection of human subjects in the famous HeLa cell line case and the standard of care in clinical trials. She also outlined NIH efforts to reform the Common Rule for the Protection of Human Subjects in Research, to meet the unprecedented ethical challenges posed by 21st century developments and technological advances in biomedical research such as modern genomic technology.—Eddy Ball


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