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Tuesday, September 13, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Gates Foundation exec quits; says move not tied to federal investigation

Seattle Times staff reporters

Dr. Richard Klausner, global health director for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, resigned yesterday, saying he is launching a new venture in Seattle. He would not reveal details.

Both Klausner and Joe Cerrell, director of Global Health Advocacy for the Gates Foundation, said Klausner's resignation had nothing to do with a Friday Seattle Times story that the Government Accountability Office has begun looking into conflict-of-interest guidelines and Klausner's role in a lucrative contract awarded to Harvard University when he was National Cancer Institute (NCI) director.

While Harvard was in the running for the $40 million NCI contract, Klausner was under consideration for two jobs at the university, including its presidency.

"This is an unfortunate coincidence of timing," Cerrell said. "The decision has been in the process for some time now."

Cerrell said Klausner and Gates Foundation President Patty Stonesifer had decided on the change in leadership.

"While he is a brilliant scientist and a visionary, Rick and the president decided the program was at a point where it could benefit from new vision," Cerrell said.

Klausner, who joined the Gates Foundation in 2002, will stay on through Dec. 31.

He said in an interview yesterday that he is not ready to announce his new venture except to say it would be based in Seattle. "It will be here where I won't have to travel all the time," he said.

Cerrell said he didn't know how long the search for a new director will take.

Klausner, director of NCI from 1995 to 2001, did not get either job at Harvard for which he had applied. But soon after leaving NCI in the fall of 2001, he joined the board of a for-profit Boston company that was co-founded by a Harvard researcher who won the NCI contract. Klausner remains on the board.

The GAO review began last month upon request from Congress, which had conducted its own two-year investigation. On Aug. 8, the House Commerce and Energy Committee sent the GAO a letter outlining its concerns.

It said Klausner had formally recused himself twice from NCI matters related to Harvard, but "documents and witness statements provide reasonable grounds to believe that NCI director participated personally and substantially as a government employee in matters affecting Harvard" in 1999.

In addition, the House letter to the GAO said Klausner had claimed in an e-mail that he personally recruited three of the 10 members of a committee reviewing the Harvard contract with NCI. The contract for that lab was officially awarded in March 2002.

House leaders first complained about Klausner in mid-2003 because of lecture fees Klausner received from research organizations that had applied for federal grants. They cited Klausner's awards as one reason that the National Institutes of Health needed stronger rules regarding outside consulting fees.

Alicia Mundy: 202-662-7457

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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