Bush in ‘Quandary’ Over Selection of FDA Commissioner
The New York Times examines the "political quandary" President Bush faces as he attempts to appoint an FDA commissioner, a position that has remained empty for more than a year. The last FDA Commissioner, Jane Henney, resigned in January 2001. According to the Times, legislators and drug industry executives have criticized Bush for "not plac[ing] a high enough priority on filling" the position. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said, "It is critically important that the president get names up on the Hill so that we can begin the confirmation process. I'm hearing an unprecedented coalition of public interest groups, entrepreneurs and scientists saying that, at a critical time when we are about to spend billions of dollars fighting bioterrorism, there just isn't anybody home at these key agencies." However, the Times reports that Bush faces a "dilemma." If he names a candidate from the drug industry, he may face the "wrath" of Senate Democrats. However, a nominee from outside the drug industry could upset pharmaceutical companies, who gave Bush "considerable campaign support" in the last election. According to the Times, the conflict has already "scuttled" one possible candidate. In July, the administration put forward the name of Michael Astrue, general counsel for the Cambridge, Mass.-based biotech company Transkaryotic Therapies, as a possible commissioner. Seven Democratic senators, including Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee chair Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), objected. Kennedy said he would not hold confirmation hearings if Astrue if were nominated, surprising White House officials who expected the Massachusetts lawmaker to "welcome" an FDA nominee from his home state. "It would be unprecedented for anyone to be appointed from an industry regulated by the FDA, and now is not the time to start," Kennedy spokesperson James Manley said.
Currently, Vanderbilt University drug safety expert Dr. Alistair Wood is a "leading candidate," according to the Times. However, the Times reports that the conflict of interests "is playing out again," as executives from the drug industry "are not keen" on Wood. According to the Times, drug executives see Wood as a potentially "overly aggressive regulator" after a "string" of drug recalls and patient deaths led him to call for the FDA to be "more aggressive" in drug monitoring. According to the Times, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson on Monday sent Bush a list of three candidates each for the FDA position and the unfilled NIH director position. The Times reports that Bush is seeking a candidate who "understands the drug approval process" and could "streamline the agency's bureaucracy." Dr. David Kessler, a former FDA commissioner in the previous Bush administration, said, "The president is getting squeezed from all sides. The job of the agency is to protect public health, and it needs leadership" (New York Times, 2/8).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.