The embattled chief of the Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Research and Development, Nelda Wray, is expected to announce shortly that she is leaving her post, according to sources close to the VA. This turn of events could mark the latest chapter in a period of turmoil within the $400 million enterprise. Wray, reached by telephone, responded: "I have nothing to say."
Wray has been in charge of VA research since January. Early in her tenure, she expressed concern that VA-funded researchers were unproductive and that the agency's emphasis on basic research--to which nearly half of all research funds are traditionally devoted--was not serving veterans well. Wray began to restructure the VA's research enterprise (Science, 4 July, p. 24) and announced changes to the peer-review process, adding a separate score for a scientist's "productivity." Her actions prompted a firestorm of dissent.
Earlier this fall, the inspector general (IG) for the VA launched an investigation into the research office, according to a spokesperson at VA headquarters. VA employees report being questioned by the IG's office about allegations that research projects in Houston were approved without peer review; that Wray's friends were hired to positions within the agency; and that a philanthropic fund intended for VA clinical studies was misused.
Some think Wray's policies had promise. Claude Chemtob, a recently retired psychologist at the VA Medical and Regional Office Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, says: "It was enormously courageous to refocus the VA research enterprise" on challenges specific to veterans. The problems arose from the way Wray's concepts were implemented across the more than 1000 labs that house VA-funded research. Critics charged that she pushed for too much change, too quickly.