Caesar’s Wife

The American Medical Association and industry funding of research.  President Obama’s cabinet and appointees coming from industry.  The future of financial rating agencies.  Whereever we turn today, we run smack into the hollowing out of the “learned intermediaries” who were entrusted for so long with the management of the critical interface between public and private interests.  In an era in which a more robust public/private partnership is not only becoming crucial but is significantly baked into a variety of  recovery efforts, it’s worth pausing to talk about how we manage this critical aspect of “public relations.”  It is vital that private industry stay engaged in partnership efforts with government but understandable that it is sensitive to capricious accusations of conflict of  interest.  It would be a shame if concerns about perceived conflicts of interest interfered with these important partnerships.  That is why now is the time for corporations in every industry to look deeply at how they choose to manage perceptions of conflict and to develop explicit and widely-shared guidelines about them.  It should be a transparent dialogue with regulators and qualified third parties.  It will take patience and persistence but companies that can handle the tensions, endure the attacks and stay in the conversation will gain a true advantage over those who, out of frustration, pack up their bags and walk away.

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