FDA reviewers head back to White Oak in 2023, with leadership looking to appease a new Congress
Republicans have taken a stand against the pandemic era habit of lax work-from-home schedules. Now that they’ve wrestled control of the House majority, the FDA’s leadership is playing ball, sending many of the agency’s more than 18,000 employees back to their desks early next year.
Whether this exodus back to White Oak in Silver Spring, MD (many staff will still be allowed to work from home for multiple days per week) will mean more defections to industry and elsewhere remains to be seen.
The FDA told Endpoints News in a statement:
Our recent announcement about the implementation of our hybrid workplace model has been predicated on the fact that our review and policy work is dependent on effective interactions within large multi-disciplinary teams and direct engagement with our many external stakeholders. Within CDER, collaboration across multi-disciplinary teams, functions, and organizations is a critical component of our success and an important element of the science-based decision making that has led to our hard-won reputation as the gold standard in drug review and public health. Additionally, our engagement with regulated industry, advocacy groups, and other external stakeholders remains a foundational aspect of our public health mission.
The FDA has not said when it might return to in-person industry-FDA meetings yet, but this hybrid approach comes as the FDA’s top cancer chief Richard Pazdur recently referred to White Oak as “deserted,” noting that “there are more security guards than employees.” But he also made clear that it doesn’t make sense to require everyone to return to an in-person office.
Pazdur’s comments followed FDA commissioner Rob Califf’s questions on the empty space as routine staff migrated away from White Oak and haven’t been required to return since the pandemic began. But that’s ending in January 2023.
Principal deputy commissioner Janet Woodcock told Endpoints via email:
We ran a defined-time pilot that was specified ahead of time, and collected data and surveys during that time about what worked and staff experience. We also heard from stakeholders. At the end of the pilot, we made an assessment of the data and experience and agreed on a way forward. We will assess how the hybrid environment is working on an ongoing basis, using a variety of viewpoints and parameters.
So will everyone who previously worked at White Oak have to return to White Oak in some capacity? Probably, one insider told Endpoints, “depending what center you work for.”