US federal research watchdog gets new permanent director

Sheila Garrity

The U.S. Office of Research Integrity, the agency that oversees research misconduct investigations for work funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has a new permanent director after a year and a half without one. 

Sheila Garrity, currently associate vice president for research integrity and research integrity officer at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., will start as ORI’s next permanent director the week of March 26, according to an internal memo from Rachel Levine, the Biden Administration’s Assistant Secretary for Health. 

Garrity previously was director of the division of research integrity at Johns Hopkins University, where she worked for more than 20 years. She also was a founding member and the first president of the Association for Research Integrity Officers (ARIO). 

Levine’s memo described Garrity as “a leader in the fields of research integrity and the responsible conduct of research education,” and asked staff to “join me in welcoming Sheila to the OASH family and in thanking Wanda Jones for the incredible job she has done in running ORI while we conducted our candidate search.”

The ORI has often been without a permanent director in its 30-plus year history, and Jones, deputy director and associate director of research and scientific integrity for the agency, has served multiple stints as its acting director in recent years. 

ORI’s last permanent director, Elisabeth (Lis) Handley, filled the role from 2019 until June 2021, when she became principal deputy assistant secretary for health. 

Before Handley’s tenure, ORI had been without a permanent director since 2017, when Kathy Partin left the role she had filled since 2015. Partin now serves as the NIH’s intramural research integrity officer. 

“It’s heartening to see ORI move in the direction of a permanent director,” said C.K. Gunsalus, director of the National Center for Principled Leadership & Research Ethics (NCPRE) at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and a longtime member of the research integrity community. (Retraction Watch’s parent nonprofit, The Center for Scientific Integrity, has partnered with NCPRE, and our cofounders have co-authored an editorial in JAMA with Gunsalus.) She told us: 

It’s been so long since there was one that the agency seems to have lost its momentum and lost its way. I wish her all the best and hope with all her connections and experience she can revitalize an office that has an important role to play. The office needs revitalization in terms of refocusing its mission and restaffing and rebuilding its relationships of trust in the community. 

Last year, ORI asked for input on potential revisions to its regulations. Two major organizations, one of them the ARIO which Garrity helped to found, submitted a letter that recommended, among other things, that ORI refine “the scope of inquiries/investigations and the circumstances under which an inquiry or investigation may be closed,” which the organizations said had become “overly broad.”

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9 thoughts on “US federal research watchdog gets new permanent director”

  1. Best wishes and many thanks to Dr. Sheila Garrity for accepting the role as new ORI Director — and congratulations to HHS for finally selecting, after a decade, a distinguished, highly respected, outside academic, legal, and administrative expert in research misconduct policy and conduct and adjudications of misconduct investigations.
    The last such ORI Director was Dr. David Wright, as I noted in my 2013 paper on ORI history: “In 1993 Congress established ORI under federal statutory authority at 42 U.S. Code §289b (NIH Revitalization Act, 1993), specifying that ORI be ‘an independent entity in HHS . . . headed by a Director, who shall be . . . experienced and specially trained in the conduct of research, and have experience in the conduct of investigations of research misconduct.’ It is noteworthy that this Congressional requirement was met during neuro-psychologist and investigator Lyle Biven’s tenure from 1993 to 1996, and then in 2012 with the appointment of a social scientist who had long served as a university Research Integrity Officer (RIO), David Wright, Ph.D.” In Accountability in Research 20 (5-6), 291-319 (2013) at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/08989621.2013.822238#.UkmnjZ0o5eU

  2. I second Alan Price’s comments and hopes for Shelia Gerrity as the new ORI director. RW also alluded to the issues that Wanda Jones has had to deal with, and her sustained contributions which extend well beyond the “candidate search.”
    Ms. Gerrity will certainly face challenges at ORI that did not exist during my time (1993-2013).
    First the lack of individual offices (i.e, carrels) means ORI now operates under constraints in physical resources than neither Alan nor I experienced. This has likely affected the number of PHS findings and ORI’s recruitment.
    Second, getting reasonable office space is unlikely, but I do hope she will be able to get financial resources for sponsored meetings, RIO Boot Camp training (initiated by David Wright), and having the Education Department restarts the ORI newsletters that once formed a critical support for institutions.
    Third, the biggest impact on research integrity climate over the last 30 years is through false images and their detection through “PPPR” (think PubPeer). Journals now wrestle with the consequences. ORI really needs to update the original photoshop actions on their website that I initiated years ago (whose purpose was to promote visualization that journals/institutions could not ignore). Photoshop has changed but the overall approach and advice, properly updated, can still establish a firm basis for understanding image forensics and to make the evidence compelling.
    Fourth, No one anticipated the current scale or the unease about a Journal’s reliance on inaccessible or nontransparent software for detection. There would be broad support for an ORI sponsored, public meeting on these issues.
    And finally, it was rare that ORI’s assessment for referring a case to an institution did not find that the original concerns extended beyond an original allegation. (This was particularly the case for questioned images, and with PubPeer it will be more so.) Perhaps Director Gerrity will see the recommendations of the Association of Research Integrity Officers (ARIO) in a fresh light. (Those sought to “narrow the scope of inquiries/investigations and [to broaden] the circumstances under which an inquiry or investigation may be closed” [meaning] “. . . ORI. . . has “interpreted [relevant] provisions to greatly expand the scope of investigations beyond what the allegations and evidence suggest . . .” (see RW source citation at:
    https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/report-on-research-compliance-volume-19-2745472/ )

  3. False images are a kids game compared to far more sophisticated and more insidious statistical manipulation. E
    .g. , through strict/lax filtering, patterns are destroyed or evoked out of nothing. Spotting the rot requires competent, i.e. rare, and self-confident statisticians, the latter bordering on an oxymoron.

    1. True, perhaps, but keep in mind ORI -being government- can only work with the ‘rot’ that is easily apparent.

      1. That’s like saying that law enforcement can catch only inept criminals. True? Perhaps, but where there’s a will there’s a way. On the other hand, ill-posed problems, lack of transparence, murky hidden assumptions and flawed reasoning provide ample opportunities for endless water-treading research and related jobs. Trusting coal miners to tackle climate change?

        1. Nope, not at all! It is simply a recognition that the research community first has to provide clear and unambiguous evidence of falsification before government should act. The research community would not tolerate ORI otherwise.

          1. Thanks for your reply. The mainstream research community is part of the problem. Stooges of Big Pharma or whomever holds the purse. They are profiting from a system that is basically rotten.

  4. Congrats to ORI and to Sheila Garrity. Having someone with a JD in charge will hopefully put an end to the legal shenanigans that have plagued some misconduct investigations over the years (PI’s suing universities and journals, etc.)
    Those of us out in the academic wastelands are eagerly awaiting the revisions to 42 CFR part 93!

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