FDA Matters Blog
Register to get regular updates from FDA Matters FDA Matters Home

Commissioner Hamburg’s Most Important Personnel Decision

With due respect to the many fine individuals that Commissioner Hamburg has recruited, FDA Matters thinks the most important appointment so far has been Michael Taylor to be Deputy Commissioner for Foods. An even more important decision needs to be made soon: choosing the right person to be Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs.

Not so many years ago, the Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs—who heads the Officer of Regulatory Affairs (ORA)—was the #2 or #3 person at FDA, depending on whether there was a principal deputy. If the commissioner was abroad or unavailable, the person with the regulatory affairs portfolio was next in line. This changed at some point, but I am not sure when or why.

The head of regulatory affairs oversees all of the inspection and enforcement activities of the agency. This is an extraordinarily powerful position, even though very few people know who heads ORA or much about it. FDA seems to consciously downplay the leadership, mission and importance of the office.

Yet, the Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs controls more than one-third of the FDA’s appropriated budget and oversees about 4,000 people spread across the US and the world. Last year, I proclaimed the head of regulatory affairs to be “the uncrowned prince of FDA.”

On January 27, FDA posted a job notice seeking a new Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs. Since the job has been vacant, the responsibilities have been carried out by an “acting” associate commissioner. Applications must be received by February 24.

The FDA needs a permanent head for the Office of Regulatory Affairs…and the sooner the better. Congressional and media attention have increasingly focused on FDA’s capacity to perform effective inspections and rigorously enforce the law. The agency’s good name and public credibility are tied to success in these areas. If the FDA’s rigor as a regulator comes into questions, its ability to undertake initiatives elsewhere in the agency may ultimately flounder.

Since the Commissioner has so many roles, she needs someone to be the highly-visible, public face of tough FDA enforcement. Two decades ago, when I worked at HHS, the Inspector General was a former professor who had become the supervisor of the organized crime units in the FBI’s Chicago Office. He was a good, smart man and a friend…but you knew immediately that you didn’t want to be a target of one of his investigations. FDA needs someone like him.

I don’t have any particular candidate in mind. Even if the “acting” associate commissioner were to be promoted, he would have more authority than at present.

Getting the right Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs is Commissioner Hamburg’s most important personnel decision. Once a decision is made, I hope she will see the value of creating a stronger profile for both the office and the office-holder.


The job posting is at:


Earlier columns relevant to this topic:

A New Food Agency Has Become Unnecessary (For Now)

January 15th, 2010

FDA Matters applauds the appointment of Mr. Michael Taylor to be the first Deputy Commissioner for Foods at FDA. With more authority, experience and stature than any previous food leader, he has the opportunity to shape and re-shape food regulation and the safety of the food supply. Because Mr. Taylor will be outstanding in this new post, the campaign for a separate food agency will go away, at least for a couple of years. Read the rest of this entry »

Executions in China: A Thanksgiving Message

November 24th, 2009

Sometimes it takes other people to give us a perspective on our own values. Read the rest of this entry »

The Uncrowned Prince of FDA

September 15th, 2009

Which FDA line manager has the most appropriated resources to work with in FY 09? Is it Janet Woodcock, head of the drug center or Stephen Sundlof, head of the food center? The correct answer: neither. Read the rest of this entry »

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

© 2009-2012 by HPS Group. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted to those wishing to quote or reprint from this site, providing it is properly attributed to FDA Matters: The Grossman FDA Report™.