Update on My Public Records Request to NIH for Grant Applications of ImPACT and UPMC’s Mark Lovell

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Readers will recall that the National Institutes of Health gave my recent Freedom of Information Act request a file number, 39418. I have been communicating about it with Earl H. Blansfield, the FOIA analyst at NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the agency that funded research by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and its Mark Lovell, a founder of the ImPACT concussion management software company.

The existing FOIA process turns public-access principles on its head in at least two respects, I believe. Most fundamentally, the Lovell grant applications themselves, whenever I get them, won’t even contain the most crucial information: whether he declared conflicts of interest. The rules put the release of that information in the hands of the institution, UPMC, rather than NIH. UPMC has never responded to a single inquiry from me, and needless to add, it did not respond when asked whether Lovell filed a conflict disclosure, and if so, what it said.

As I await the release of the (probably perfunctory) grant documents, we’re learning more about another absurdity. The first step in the release is, in the words of NIH’s Blansfield, “asking the grantee to advise this office if release of the material you requested will adversely affect any patent rights or reveal other confidential commercial or financial information. Subsequent to receipt of such advice this office will make a decision regarding releaseability.”

That was two weeks ago. According to Blansfield this morning: “I am still working with the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Research to obtain the release…. I spoke with the Assistant Director in the Office of Research this morning and she is working with the Office of General Counsel on their response.”

In short, the practice of freedom of information here involves neither freedom nor information. Ask the federal government for documents about money given to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and it turns out that the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center can hold the request hostage.


Irv Muchnick

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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick