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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Animal & Veterinary

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Retiring Compliance Director’s Mantra Was Consumer Protection

by Walt D. Osborne, M.S., J.D., Assistant Editor
FDA Veterinarian Newsletter 2006 Volume XXI, No V

Ask Gloria Dunnavan, the Center for Veterinary Medicine’s retiring Director of Compliance, who she works for, and her answer is, “I work for the consumer. It’s my mantra, and at the end of each day, I ask myself whether I did the very best today for the consumer. If I can say ‘yes,’ then I accomplished my goal.” Ms. Dunnavan’s mantra and many other topics were covered recently when I had a chance to sit down and talk with this delightful person about her 37 years in the Federal Government, which came to an end January 4, 2007, when she retired. “It was not an easy decision,” she confided, “because I love my job and all of the people I have worked with. Not coming to work will be very difficult for me.”

Ms. Dunnavan not coming to work as CVM’s chief compliance official will also be difficult for the many FDA employees whose lives were touched by her in so many ways over the years. Her departure will leave a gaping hole and shoes not easily filled. What you see is what you get: no pretense, no façade, no airs, no double-talk, and all public service. Strong in her convictions about protecting consumers and animals, Ms. Dunnavan’s expertise and dedication to her craft were pivotal features of her 10 years as Compliance Director, as well as her 27 years of government service before that.

A Kentucky native, Ms. Dunnavan (or “Glo” as all her friends and colleagues call her) started out as a school teacher, imparting to young minds the intricacies of chemistry and the physical sciences. But after about a year of this, she realized she wanted to spend her days with something other than chalk dust and test tubes, so she applied for—and was hired—as an entry-level clerk at the Census Bureau in Jeffersonville, IN, just across the Kentucky state line. Her name was put on an availability roster, and in short order, she was notified of an open position for an inspector at FDA. She sent in her application (even though, back in 1972, “male applicants only” actually appeared on the form!), and a week later was interviewed. Another week passed, and she learned that she was hired and should report to the Nashville District office. She worked there as an investigator for 5 years, plus another 1-1/2 years at the resident post, handling several important compliance matters. Then the opportunity for a job as a compliance officer at CVM opened up and she landed it. It was in that role that she developed a sincere interest in reducing the incidence of illegal residues in meat and poultry.

After several years, the position of Director of the Division of Compliance opened, and Ms. Dunnavan, telling it like it is, said she applied for two reasons: to make a real difference; and to make sure that a qualified person took the reins of this important position, which had been vacant for 3 years. She spoke of her realization one day that so much of our daily life’s routine involves some aspect of FDA intervention, whether it’s ensuring our contact lenses are safe, our cereal is pure, our pet food is safe and labeled correctly, or our prescription drug is safe and effective. “FDA is indeed a consumer protection agency,” Ms. -Dunnavan said, “and staying focused on that realization helps us make the right decisions.” She lamented that some battles cannot be won but stressed that limited time and resources need to be channeled to the ones that can be.

Accomplishments

When asked about changes at CVM, Ms. Dunnavan remarked that one of the most notable changes over the years has been the Center’s heightened visibility, both internally and to the public as well. She said there was a time when CVM was more the outlier, operating in the shadow of some of the more news-generating Centers at FDA, such as the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research and Center for Food Safety and Nutrition. But that has changed, especially in the advent of such high-profile areas as drug residues in edible animal tissues, antibiotic resistance, and veterinary drug compounding. Probably the single most significant issue that brought CVM to center stage was BSE, Ms. Dunnavan commented. This issue generated huge public interest, both in terms of public and animal health and safety, but in terms of economic and global impacts as well. Ms. Dunnavan regards the 1997 ruminant feed rule to prevent the spread of BSE as her biggest accomplishment at CVM, especially since the Center can boast that the animal feed industry is more than 99 percent compliant. Ms. Dunnavan’s eyes light up when she mentions that the BSE work led to CVM being presented with a coveted “Hammer Award.” (The Hammer Award was established by Al Gore, when he was Vice President, to recognize Federal Government teams that made significant contributions to building a government that works better, costs less, and yields results that Americans care about.) This accomplishment that brought about the recognition did not come about easily, however. It took a concerted effort on the part of CVM staff, State and local counterparts, the regulated industry, and others to attain the level of cooperation and shared goals to prevent the spread of BSE in this country. Ms. Dunnavan said she and her staff spent countless hours training, giving speeches, doing interviews, attending meetings, and much more to make the BSE initiative a success. A total of 14,000 inspections have taken place, including inspections of non-licensed feed mills for which no inventory was available. Ms. Dunnavan developed a strategy to locate these facilities and include them on the inspection -schedule.

Another source of great pride for Ms. Dunnavan is the marked reduction in drug residues in meat and poultry. She attributes this reduction to such things as the cooperative work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other agencies, the design of education and training programs, liaison with veterinarians, and the development of an appropriate policy to address the various cases of noncompliance. Getting the bad apples out of the barrel has been a top priority for this compliance director, and the list of violators is probably pretty long. “Consumers shouldn’t have to worry about illegal drug residues in their hamburger; my best customers are sitting in jail,” said Ms. Dunnavan with a smile.

A strong advocate of the “High Performance Organization” (HPO) philosophy used at the Center, Ms. Dunnavan has lived and breathed the concept every day on the job. She thanks CVM Director, Dr. Stephen Sundlof, for embracing HPO, building it into the Center’s culture, and ensuring that positive changes have been realized over the past several years. Ms. Dunnavan herself provides her team with the necessary tools to get the job done, enough guidance to help them learn and adapt, but then relies on them for help and direction each step of the way. “We all help each other and contribute to each other’s work product, confident that in the end, we’re all here to help the consumer, and I’m very proud of that,” Ms. Dunnavan commented. This team effort was dramatically illustrated by the work to withdraw poultry fluoroquinolones approval. (The FDA Commissioner announced in July 2005 a decision to no longer allow distribution or use of the antimicrobial drug enrofloxacin for the purpose of treating bacterial infections in poultry.) The project was huge and beset with electronic documentation problems that necessitated manual processing to ensure that the deadline to complete the docket was met. “We worked nights and weekends, sometimes till 1:00 a.m., to get that done.” Not one to merely shout the commands and have the troops advance, Ms. Dunnavan was right there with the team burning the midnight oil. She runs team meetings the same way: the roles of facilitator, scribe, and timekeeper all rotate. This opera obviously has no “prima donnas,” but lots of “spear-carriers” (think “important extras”), and when the curtain call is taken, Ms. Dunnavan stands to the side.

When questioned about a successor, Ms. Dunnavan offered that she hopes the new Director of Compliance will espouse the HPO philosophy, emphasizing cooperation and working together, with the continuous focus on consumer protection. “Hopefully, the successor will build on what has been established here, creating a pleasant working environment, which means less internal strife and a higher quality work product,” she said. “And you really need to have a good sense of humor, because laughing every day is a good thing,” she added. She also believes strongly in encouraging people to be multi-talented so that co-workers can chip in and help out in areas other than their primary expertise.

Retirement

Ms. Dunnavan has had her share of drama in her personal life, and only now is taking her doctor’s orders to put her health ahead of her job—something she resisted doing for far too long. Those 10- to 12-hour days took their toll, and then a fall in her home about 1-1/2 years ago landed Ms. Dunnavan in a wheelchair for 6 months. A 10-week stint at the Duke University Diet and Fitness Center helped her get her life back and lose 189 pounds so far this year—an amazing accomplishment. The process continues, and regular swimming and water exercise have had a dramatic effect on her quality of life and have enabled her to walk so much better and get to the places that she hadn’t been able to reach for so many months.

No retirement interview would be complete without questions about the future. “Well, it won’t involve a rocking chair on the porch,” Ms. Dunnavan quipped when asked. But it does involve a newly purchased home in Wilmington, NC, that has a “snow-free zone” sign in front of it. The house was a recent birthday present to herself. A lover of antiques and the “thrill of the hunt,” Ms. Dunnavan will again pursue this long-neglected hobby. Other plans include photography of old churches and possibly a book describing them. Another project involves Pumpernickel. No, not the bread, but the lovable Dachshund she once owned that may be her inspiration for a compilation of short stories. Porcelain painting, rug-hooking, embroidery, and water-color painting may be added to the list. All of this leaves very little time for that rocking chair, doesn’t it?

Our interview was ended by a knock on the door, summonsing Ms. Dunnavan to an important meeting. Industry representatives? Senior CVM leadership? Congressional staffers? No, not even close. This was a planning meeting for her upcoming retirement party in February, which will be a big deal. “I’d better get to this meeting,” Ms. Dunnavan apologetically stated, “because I want to make sure that everyone who comes has a really good time.” And if you know “Glo” like I now know “Glo,” you know we’ll all have a wonderful time indeed!