Tuesday, May 19, 2009
The Senate yesterday confirmed President Obama's pick to oversee food and drug safety, areas that are vital to consumers and are widely seen as critically needing improvement.
Margaret Hamburg, a bioterrorism expert, will be sworn in as the 21st commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. She is the second woman to hold the post in 100 years of agency history. The Senate confirmed her nomination by voice vote.
Hamburg's first priority will be to help direct development of a vaccine for the new swine flu. She has said she also wants to revamp food safety.
The FDA oversees such disparate items as peanut butter to cancer drugs to medical imaging machines, a portfolio that represents about a quarter of consumer products.
But its reputation has been tarnished. A few years ago, the agency was shaken by the withdrawal of Vioxx, a painkiller that turned out to have serious heart risks. Recurring outbreaks of foodborne illness have exposed its haphazard oversight of the nation's food supply.
A federal judge recently ruled that the FDA politicized a decision on emergency contraception during the Bush administration. Morale problems also keep spilling out into the open.
Hamburg, 53, told senators at her confirmation hearing that she wants to restore public confidence in the agency by putting science first and by running an open and accountable operation.
As an assistant health secretary under President Bill Clinton, Hamburg helped lay the groundwork for the government's bioterrorism and flu pandemic preparations. Before that, she ran New York City's health department.