As for the ORHP itself, I'm told its a 'strange creature' that was created in 2000 to replace the Office of PRotection from Reserarch Risks. Allegedly, the Office of Protection from Research Risks, which reported to the NIH, had been doing its job too zealously.
The OHRP would report directly to the assistant secretary of health--giving the administration more control over its activities.
When ORHP began writing letters to Johns Hopkins and Michigan the head of OHRP was Bernard Schwetz. (He suddenly resigned in August, but this all happened on his watch.) Schwetz is a veterinarian. I'm not kidding. He's a DMV. He also has a Ph.D. and is a toxicologist.
When you look into his background, you find out that he seems to be a political appointee. At the very beginning of Bush's first term, Schwetz was made deputy acting commissioner of the FDA. That's right a vet was deputy acting commissioner of the FDA for a year. (I have nothing against vets, but this doesn't make a lot of sense.)
This was not a bright period in the FDA's history. During Schwetz's tenure, Dan Troy, who was the FDA's counsel, began running the FDA from behind the scenes. Troy had a been long-time enemy of the FDA-- representing Brown & Williamson in its fight against the FDA and, just a few months before he joined the agency, Troy was representing Pfizer in another battle with the FDA. As one magazine (U.S. News?) put it 'Mr. Outside Goes Inside' and proceeded to do his best to dismantle the FDA.(This is all documented in my book, Money-Driven Medicine. Congressmen protested and eventually Troy was forced to resign.)
The FDA Counsel was a former lawyer for the tobacco industry? It turns out that was true. He had also previously represented Pfizer. He was also accused of being far too cozy with the pharmaceutical industry while he was at the FDA (see this news article from the BMJ). Apparently Troy was also the first FDA Counsel who was a political appointee (see this news article from JAMA).
A veterinarian was running the Office of Human Research Protection? Curiouser and curiouser. I hope that Maggie Mahar and others will look further into this. Stay tuned.
ADDENDUM (4 January, 2008) - Ms Mahar updated her discussion of the background of the OHRP and OPRR here on the Health Beat blog.
ADDENDUM (18 January, 2008) - Ms Mahar has added several more updates, the most recent here. Also see this post from the Comarow on Quality blog. Comarow interviewed OHRP officials, but still was unable to figure out the reason they shut down the research project.