A slimmer FDA: White House proposes 30% cut to headcount under reorganization

Under a sweeping new plan to reorganize government agencies it deems inefficient, the Trump administration said Thursday it wants to remove food safety from the FDA’s purview — along with $1.3 billion in resources and 5,000 of the agency’s staff.

The proposal would slim down the FDA’s responsibilities to only include drugs, devices, biologics, tobacco, dietary supplements, and cosmetics. And the agency overhaul would come with a new moniker: the Federal Drug Administration.

The proposal is part of a broader plan labelled “Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century,” a 132-page marketing document that details a wish-list of reforms at the Department of Health and Human Services.  The report is meant to tackle issues President Trump outlined in a 2017 executive order, which focused on reducing “duplication and redundancy” and improving “efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of the executive branch.”

The reorganization would shift roughly 5,000 FDA employees out of the agency to join about 9,200 USDA staffers. The new group would be called the “Federal Food Safety Agency,” and it would fall under the USDA’s mandate, not the FDAs. That would take a significant slice out FDA’s total employee count, which currently stands at 17,468 people.

Interestingly, the proposal also suggests the FDA would be contributing $1.3 billion in budget dollars, while the USDA would only toss in $1 billion.

The FDA along with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) are the two main federal food safety agencies now. The White House report describes their arrangement as “illogical, fragmented, and duplicative”. From the report:

For example: while FSIS has regulatory responsibility for the safety of liquid eggs, FDA has regulatory responsibility for the safety of eggs while they are inside their shells; FDA regulates cheese pizza; but if there is pepperoni on top, it falls under the jurisdiction of FSIS; FDA regulates closed-faced meat sandwiches, while FSIS regulates open-faced meat sandwiches.

No big re-org will happen without Congress having its say, of course — a fact the White House takes note of. “Fully integrating FSIS and the food safety functions of FDA would ultimately require a reconciliation of underlying legislative authorities and regulatory approaches,” the report states.

Margaret Weichert, the deputy director for management at the White House Office of Management and Budget, acknowledged in a call with reporters that the changes “will not happen overnight,” but hopes some of the language can serve as the “beginning of a national dialogue on government reform.”

What’s certain is that Scott Gottlieb, the nation’s 23rd Commissioner of Food and Drugs, has taken an especially personal interest in his role as guardian of the food supply with regular tweets and communiques to the public on matters from proper cooking techniques and recall notices, and he isn’t likely to give up that responsibility so fast.

Image: The White House Shutterstock

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
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Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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