U.S. government watchdog names investigative director

A week after news that the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI) would have a new interim director shortly comes news that the agency will also have a new director of its investigative division as of early next month.

Starting August 4, Alexander Runko will be the director of the ORI’s Division of Investigative Oversight (DIO). He is already working at the agency as an investigator.

According to the ORI:

Dr. Runko first worked at ORI as a Scientist-Investigator from 2010-2016, where he was involved in handling and assessing allegations and reports of inquiries and investigations of research misconduct that involve Public Health Service funding. In that role, he also trained and provided guidance to research institutions, Federal agencies and journal editors on forensic and analytical tools to examine and uncover the falsification and fabrication of scientific data.

One of the investigations Runko worked on at the ORI was that of the work of former Wayne State University researcher Christian Kreipke, a bruising case that led to years of court battles. Observers at the time noted that a judge took little of Runko’s testimony into account because officials had not done an adequate job of establishing his credentials as an expert in court.

Runko, whose twin Erik is also a scientist who has worked at the NIH and National Science Foundation, earned a PhD in biochemistry and molecular pharmacology from the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center and completed a postdoc at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

The ORI continues:

Dr. Runko also worked at NINDS as a Health Program Specialist in the extramural research program, where he managed portfolios of grant proposals and awards on neurological diseases, and conducted administrative reviews, regulatory compliance checks and scientific analyses from a programmatic viewpoint.

More recently at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), NIH, Dr. Runko was the Extramural Genomic Program Administrator and Data Access Committee Chair, where he directed the management of genomic and phenotypic data submissions and the review of applications to access NIH and NHLBI databases. At NHLBI, Dr. Runko developed procedures to streamline and standardize the processing and reviews of data access requests and dataset registrations. Dr. Runko also managed and mitigated unauthorized data use/access incidents, and served as a liaison between stakeholders, NIH and the research community on genomic data sharing policies. 

Update, 1600 UTC, 7/19/19: Runko tells Retraction Watch:

I am honored and excited about this opportunity as the DIO Director. I look forward to continue working with our very talented team of scientist-investigators, subject matter experts, and program staff, as well supporting the new ORI leadership.

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8 thoughts on “U.S. government watchdog names investigative director”

  1. Good news, but can you give a link to the text quote (or maybe the ORI official press release)? (I could not find it on the ORI website, where I just looked for more context.)

      1. Thanks for the context, Ivan. Permanence is welcome news, under any circumstance (as would have been the other experienced DIO investigators who had served as acting director in those 90 day rotations).

        I hope this signals a commitment from OASH downtown to strengthen DIO’s base in investigations through training for investigators, supporting new forensics, training RIO’s, and developing online resources.

  2. Interesting that Dr. Runko was involved in the Kreipke investigation. It seems to me that Kripke made a profound error by appealing the findings that he committed misconduct in NIH-funded work: everything that came out in the ORI hearing, especially the ALJ debunking Kreipke’s whistleblowing claim, will likely destroy his case against the VA, if it ever returns to court. He won once against the VA Hospital, maybe he could have won again. That seems pretty unlikely now.

    1. What was shameful about the details underlying the Kriepke decision was the ALJ’s ignorant comments about the DIO investigator’s qualifications (note the ALJ intentionally chose not to ask), which from my experience his comments actually revealed a rebuke that ORI’s lawyers (from the HHS OGC branch) had screwed up in establishing the support of their witness’s qualifications (which should have been obvious). One of the long standing challenges to DIO has been having to rely on support from an off-site legal staff.

      1. Dr. Krueger: I agree entirely. I’m baffled by the attitudes/behavior of some attorneys who “prosecute” these cases. They appear loathe to accept advice, even from scientists who have substantial experience investigating misconduct. I would bet A LOT that the attorneys representing the fraudsters would accept and consider any advice available to them.

        From all I’ve read about the Kripke case (mostly from RW), it appears that the VA should have won their case and ORI should have gotten the result they were after. The VA judge’s decision gives the impression that (s)he judged based on debunked conspiracy theories. As you mentioned, the judge in the ORI case apparently threw out ALL of Dr. Runko’s work and did another investigation himself, simultaneously rewriting the rules for misconduct.

        Then, the same ORI judge in the Kreipke case decided on the case wherein a grant reviewer purloined a grant he reviewed and submitted a plagiarized version in his own name. Clearly, the most parsimonious explanation is that this person had access to a good grant and used it for himself. The judge ruled, though, as if he didn’t do it, but the judge invented a new logic in which this person was guilty of a trainee’s actions in plagiarizing the other grant. Astonishing!

        It appears to me that the main (and dangerous) effect of these three decisions is that they are instructive to the cheaters on how to proceed in beating the system and avoiding their due.

  3. What struck me in that decision was the unusual gratuitously personal comments by the ALJ, when in fact they weren’t required to make a the legal point. Having said that, overall it is always healthy to have the government held to a high standard in the appeals process, as long as one can make sense of them. ORI’s losses in the old earlier cases certainly weren’t fun, but they sure improved its performance going forward.

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