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Obama To Tap Ex-New York Health Official To FDA

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

The Obama administration will nominate Dr. Margaret Hamburg to be the next head of the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA commissioner overseas a vast empire, 25 cents of every dollar consumers spend is on products regulated by the FDA.

SIEGEL: NPR's Joanne Silberner joins me to talk about this development.

And Joanne, Dr. Hamburg has a very long resume in public health. Let's start with what she's doing now.

JOANNE SILBERNER: She's a senior scientist at a think tank called the Nuclear Threat Initiative, and she's working on public health preparedness in response to things like anthrax and food safety issues. She's been New York City's commissioner of health for six years. She's been at the Federal Department of Health and Human Services. She's worked on AIDS issues at the National Institutes of Health. She's really got quite a career.

SIEGEL: The FDA has come under a lot of fire in recent years. What in all this prepares her to run the Food and Drug Administration?

SILBERNER: I think the experience at the New York City Health Department. That's a big agency. She made some really tough decisions there. She beefed up quarantine laws during a serious tuberculosis epidemic. She got a needle exchange program going. She oversaw food inspection. And that food inspection part is not something that a lot of FDA commissioners have had. And over the years, she's worked a lot with Congress. She's very well-liked and respected in the public health community.

SIEGEL: And the challenge, challenges she will likely face at FDA?

SILBERNER: Low morale, for one. They've had four commissioners in the last 10 years, none lasted more than two years. Congress is on the attack for saying the agency hasn't safeguarded the nation's food supply and it approves drugs too quickly. Drug companies say it approves drugs too slowly. There've been accusations of too much administration influence over some of the FDA's decision. Congress may take food away from the agency and put it somewhere else. They are also likely to add tobacco, or it's possible that the agency is going to get tobacco regulation.

She will be going to a richer agency, though. It's been getting a little bit more money lately.

SIEGEL: That's quite a lot on her plate over there. Well, what happens next in the process of this nomination?

SILBERNER: Well, once the White House makes it official, when that happens -and they're not confirming or denying that it's going to happen - she'll have to go through a Senate confirmation hearing. No problems, really, in the short run that people are seeing. She is on the board of a big medical device and generic drug company, Henry Schein. She will have to give that up.

I think after the announcement there may be some pushback. But so far, the word on her is very good.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Joanne.

SILBERNER: Thank you.

SIEGEL: NPR's Joanne Silberner. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanne Silberner
Joanne Silberner is a health policy correspondent for National Public Radio. She covers medicine, health reform, and changes in the health care marketplace.
Robert Siegel
Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.
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