Director's Comments: Ronald W. Hart, Ph.D.
I arrived in Arkansas during the heat wave of 1980. For over 45 days in a row the temperature exceeded 100 degrees each day without a drop of rain. The Center had a combined budget from EPA and FDA of less than six million dollars, and the EPA had just announced that based on the negative report from the National Academy of Sciences and the failure of the Center to meet the expectations of the EPA, it would be withdrawing its financial support. Only approximately 35,000 square feet of the Center’s potential space had been renovated, with many areas lit by bare bulbs, having roof leakages and scorpions running across the floor. On top of all this, Mr. Myers, then Deputy Commissioner of the FDA, called me to Washington and informed me that it was his belief that if the Center could not be turned around within the next two years it would have to be closed. Emergency action had to be taken.
First, it was imperative to establish support for the Center within the FDA, the USPHS, and the DHHS. Despite the observation that the administration was about to change from Democratic to Republican, it was obvious that the senior Civil Service personnel would not change. Based upon this observation I recruited the support of key senior administrators in helping to create a new administrative staff for the Center, thus establishing the connections needed between the Center and Washington. With a new Washington-trained staff in hand, the next step was to significantly alter the perception of the top-level decision makers in the FDA and other agencies relative to the Center and its productivity.
The Scientific Division Directors were informed they had to be responsible to their customer base, and that this had to be done in a fashion that could be documented. Productivity indicators, both qualitative and quantitative, had to be established for scientific productivity, and these would form the basis of each employee’s performance review. The Division Directors in charge of support services were charged with reducing overhead costs, while maintaining product quality. It was further stressed that their employment reviews would be based in part upon the feedback from the scientific staff and in part based upon documented reductions in overhead costs. The managerial staff directors were informed by the newly recruited senior managers that they would be required to ensure that the plethora of changes were smoothly carried out and documented.
The successful implementation of the above goals led to the Center’s recognition by a number of federal review groups and private professional organizations thereby permitting the next step in organizational development to take place—the national and international recognition of the Center as a whole vs. recognitions of the expertise of one or two key members of the scientific and engineering staff.
Local and national outreach programs were established with a number of historically black colleges and institutions, international training programs were established with various nations including Taiwan, the Peoples Republic of China, the (then) USSR, Egypt, and others. Scientific staff was identified and recommended by management to serve on a number of departmental and interdepartmental committees, task forces, etc. Housing was established to aid in the implementation of these programs and scientific programs and facilities expanded.
Local programs with various colleges, universities, and state organizations were initiated leading to a minority program in regulatory sciences at UAPB, the creation of the Arkansas Science and Technology Authority, and creation of the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Science and the Arts. With the support of local and state-wide elected officials, the budget of the Center was rapidly expanded leading to the renovation of several hundreds of thousands of square feet of additional facilities and several millions of dollars in operating budget at a time when other regulatory agencies were either being reduced in size, scope, and budget or eliminated altogether. These activities placed the Center and its staff on a solid footing to succeed. In 1992 with the advent of a new Commission and facing certain personal issues, I was appointed Distinguished Scientist in Residence and resumed my studies on the role of nutrition and diet in degenerative disease processes including cancer and aging. Out of these programs, thanks to a really great group of associates, several hundred peer-reviewed publications, scientific presentations, a number of patents, and millions of dollars of research support from NIH were transferred to the FDA and in particular the NCTR, thereby further strengthening the Center and its reputation. I retired in 2000 after twenty years of government service.