Conversation with Peter G. Lurie : Former FDA critic now an agency insider

By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 4, 2010; 12:21 AM

Peter G. Lurie, who was one of the most vocal critics of the Food and Drug Administration when he worked as deputy director of the Public Citizen Health Research Group, was named in 2009 as a senior adviser in the agency's Office of Policy, Planning and Budget.

Q.Can you describe what your job is at the FDA?

Technically I'm a senior adviser in the Office of Policy, Planning and Budget, which means I work with David Dorsey [acting deputy commissioner for policy, planning and budget]. But I also have a strong relationship with Josh Sharfstein, who is the principal deputy commissioner. I see my role in part trying to implement what Dr. Sharfstein and Dr. Hamburg [Margaret A. Hamburg, FDA head] laid out in their New England Journal of Medicine piece somewhere over a year ago in which the agency would be placed on more of a public health footing in which we explore the public health ramifications of the policies that we choose.

What made you move to the agency?

With the new administration coming in and with particular people leaving the agency I saw an opportunity to move to the inside, as it were, and see what could be accomplished using a different approach. One of the ironies of this is that the tools that one uses are almost the same as one uses on the outside. You have to engage in the same kind of scientific analysis. You depend on the same published articles. So in many ways it's a transference of skills that I already had, just to a new setting. One big advantage, though, to being here, of course, is that certain things that are not available to the general public are available within the government and one can get a much clearer, better-rounded picture of an issue than people on the outside are able to get.

What's been the most surprising thing you've discovered?

One area of growth for me coming here is I have to, of course, work with very large numbers of people. One of the things one comes to accept is that you are not the agency's expert on any one particular thing. There's always somebody who knows at least a little bit more than you and often a lot more than you. You have to find a way to work with all of those people to bring them together to bring their particular strengths to the table. But in the end, to the extent possible, everybody has to be happy with the outcome. They have to feel some sense of buy-in into the final product. And that is a kind of skill that's less emphasized in organizations that are smaller where it's clearer how things will turn out. That's been a challenge for me.

Before you moved to the FDA you were known as one of the most prominent and vocal critics of the agency? What's it been like to be on the other side?

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