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FDA Hiring 1300 to Improve Safety Efforts

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Under increasing scrutiny following the heparin scandal and other drug safety debacles, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is about to embark on a hiring blitz. The hiring plan is the FDA’s response to critics who say it hasn’t been doing enough to protect Americans from defective drugs, foods and medical devices.

Earlier this year, Representative Bart Stupak said that if Americans “knew how little the FDA did to assure the food and drug supply, if the truth ever came out…people would be marching in the street.” Stupak—an eight-term Democratic congressman and chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House’s powerful Energy and Commerce panel, which has jurisdiction over the FDA—is at the center of an aggressive effort by congressional Democrats to spotlight what they say are problems with the Bush administration’s position on consumer-safety issues. Stupak called for the resignation of von Eschenbach and other top officials.

Representative John D. Dingell, Democrat-Michigan and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has long been unhappy with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and its commissioner, Andrew von Eschenbach. Dingell recently accused von Eschenbach of not doing his job and has repeatedly asked the FDA chief how much it would cost to do more inspections. The commissioner still has not provided specifics.

Dingell and other lawmakers said the FDA must conduct more inspections of companies sending drugs to the U.S. to ensure they are safe. “You cannot do your job, you are not doing your job,” Dingell told von Eschenbach, who was a witness at the hearing before the energy and commerce panel’s investigations subcommittee. “You simply are absolutely incapable of addressing your responsibilities.”

To quell critics, the FDA is planning on filling over 1,300 positions by the end of September, triple the amount hired by the FDA over the past two years. The FDA will add 600 new jobs—including chemists, biologists, and statisticians—and will fill over 700 currently open posts. Most of the new positions will be in the department charged with reviewing new drugs; 150 will be in field offices that inspect manufacturing plants and food centers. The FDA currently has 10,000 employees.

Approximately 500 of the new positions will be funded by user fees paid to the FDA by drug makers filing applications to market new products, according to Christopher Kelly, FDA spokesman. These fees were appropriated from Congress as part of legislation passed in September that renewed and increased fees paid to the FDA by makers of drugs and medical devices, Kelly said. The FDA will hold recruitment fairs and conferences to fill the positions and most of the jobs will be at the FDA’s new headquarters in White Oak, Maryland.

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