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Hot Town, Summer in the City

Thirty years ago, Washington closed down every August. The heat and humidity were beastly and Congress was gone. Over the intervening years, DC has become a 12-month town, with August one of the busier times.

For FDA, there has been so much August-action that this column had to fit my analysis of two developments: the appointment of the new tobacco center director; and the reorganization of the Commissioner’s office.

Appointment of the first Director of the Center for Tobacco Products. In an earlier column (http://www.fdamatters.com/?p=303), I identified the ideal credentials for the new director of the tobacco center:

  • broad government experience,
  • close-up familiarity with FDA,
  • public health and regulatory perspective, and
  • the gravitas and presence to handle the heat from Congress and stakeholders.

Commissioner Hamburg’s choice, Dr. Lawrence Deyton, is a near-perfect match. He is scientifically-grounded, policy savvy, has strong managerial experience and has worked at VA, NIH, HHS and as a staffer in Congress. He is currently the chief public health and environmental hazards officer at the Veterans’ Administration.

Based on news accounts, Dr. Deyton has experience with tobacco policy and cessation programs, but it is a very small part of his resume. He had no role in the long effort to create the new Center. None of the stakeholders appear to know him or to have worked with him. All of these are to FDA’s advantage and underscore the political shrewdness of the choice.

Passage of the new tobacco law was anti-climactic. The appointment of the new director begins the part that is fresh and exciting. Government regulation of tobacco is finally a reality, with the mandate to turn rhetoric into action.

To Dr. Hamburg, I say “well done.” To Dr. Deyton, I say: “never forget the enormity of cigarette-related disease and the need for the strongest possible public health regulations to combat it.”

Re-organization of the Commissioner’s Office. It is very seductive to imagine that moving boxes around on an organization chart solves problems. It doesn’t.

Nonetheless, there is much to ponder in the newly-announced reorganization of the Commissioner’s Office. It offers substantive changes that make sense. Here are the three most important:

  • Creation of a new Office of Foods, headed by a deputy commissioner for foods. The food center and the veterinary medicine center will report directly to this new office, adding management responsibilities to what was previously a staff function. Creation of the new office ends confusion about who is in charge of food. These changes will take pressure off the commissioner. It creates the optimum structure for making foods more effective within FDA. Ultimately, this may decrease the perceived benefit of creating a separate food agency.
  • Combining policy and planning with budget. These functions are closely related and need to provide similar visions of FDA’s future. Reporting to different people has been an impediment.
  • Elevating the Office of the Chief Scientist to deputy commissioner status, with more programmatic responsibilities. This provides renewed credibility to the oft-repeated message that FDA needs to elevate its scientific mission. It also increases the responsibilities of Dr. Jesse Goodman, one of the agency’s most respected leaders.

Although this is still moving boxes around on an organization chart…these changes should make it easier for talented leadership to deliver optimum results. I like it.


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