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Advocacy at a Glance

March 19, 2021

Top-Line: Secretary Becerra was confirmed this week and faces a large and pressing set of responsibilities. The Alliance wrote to the Secretary, congratulating him on his confirmation and urging him to swiftly press for nomination and confirmation of a candidate for permanent FDA Commissioner. The Alliance’s letter and related materials are provided. An article is described that focuses on how food safety is work and shouldn’t be taken for granted. This week’s Analysis and Commentary looks at both our position on the need for a permanent Commissioner and also outlines the path of this year’s appropriations cycle.

Becerra Confirmed; HHS Now Has Its Top Leader. By a 50-49 vote, the Senate confirmed Xavier Becerra to be the next Secretary of HHS. He is expected to focus on the pandemic and health access issues, including Affordable Care Act expansion, Medicare, and Medicaid. He must also address the large funding and program requirements conferred on HHS by the COVID relief legislation recently passed by Congress, and he is likely to be quickly drawn into border detention issues. Compared to previous Secretaries, he may pay more attention to the Administration on Children and Families, maternal health, and health disparities. The Alliance sent a letter congratulating Secretary Becerra on his confirmation.

More Attention to the Lack of a Nominee for FDA Commissioner. Historically, FDA has been blessed with strong and talented acting commissioners — as it is now. Whether the acting commissioner or another candidate is ultimately nominated, it makes a significant difference when the agency finally has a Senate-confirmed leader. In both 2009 and 2017, the Alliance urged new Presidents to move swiftly to nominate a Commissioner.

This week, in congratulating Secretary Becerra on his confirmation, the Alliance repeated its past practice and urged the new Secretary to press for nomination and confirmation of a candidate to lead FDA permanently (letter here). In delivering this message, the Alliance became the broadest-based FDA stakeholder group to urge a swift nomination. Among others that have spoken out, the most notable is a letter from six former commissioners to the President seeking prioritization of a nomination (letter here). This week’s Analysis and Commentary delves more deeply into the Alliance’s letter and accompanying statement.

Safety of the Food Supply Should Not Be Taken for Granted. An article in the March 16 issue of Food Safety News (here), discusses why the food community needs to “shift to recognize work behind food safety.” Markus Liff of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO; described here) makes points about the general lack of public understanding about food safety. It results from hard work throughout the food supply chain, he points out, and doesn’t occur by accident. Although he was talking globally, the dialogue in the US could certainly be upgraded so that policymakers and the public have a better understanding of how much effort is required to assure a safe food supply. The Alliance certainly plans to make this point more often.

More Q&A in Analysis and Commentary. As mentioned above, this week’s Analysis and Commentary describes the Alliance’s letter urging swift nomination and confirmation of a permanent FDA Commissioner. Also this week, we discuss the timing of this year’s budget and appropriations process.  

Four Former Commissioners Comment on Current FDA Issues. STAT held a webinar this week (here) with former Commissioners Henney, Hamburg, Califf, and Gottlieb. They all care deeply about the agency and gave interesting answers on a number of topics. In response to news stories suggesting a larger role for the Commissioner in product decisions, they all reiterated how rare it is for product issues to be brought to the Commissioner. Much of the hour was devoted to questions about opioids and tobacco policy. This didn’t seem to be planned, but nonetheless provided a window into what types of issues take up a large proportion of the Commissioner’s time.

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