The Food and Drug Administration had a tough time of it in the Bush years. Some officials there felt that the White House was constantly meddling in its work, bringing politics and ideology into decisions that should have been made based on science alone. They thought all that would change, however, when Barack Obama was elected.
But as the New York Times’ Gardiner Harris reports, the Obama administration has not lived up to the FDA’s hopes. There is still politically motivated interference from the executive branch in what are supposed to be evidence-based regulatory decisions. “Employees here waited eight long years for deliverance that didn’t come,” one FDA official told Harris.
The most public glimpse most of us got into tensions between the two parties was when the White House overruled the Food and Drug Administration’s recommendation that emergency contraception should be made available over-the-counter. There have also been fights about how to best regulate sunscreen, asthma inhalers and even popcorn:
Nancy-Ann DeParle, the whip-smart and sometimes caustic White House deputy chief of staff, picked up The Wall Street Journal one summer day in 2010 and got an unwelcome shock. The Food and Drug Administration was proposing as part of the new health care law to require that movie theaters post calorie counts for popcorn — and this was the first she had heard of it.
In the F.D.A.’s view, the law called for moviegoers to know that many a buttery bucket of popcorn had more calories than two Big Macs, but Ms. DeParle, President Obama’s chief health adviser, thought the requirement was unnecessary and would probably be lampooned on Fox News as an especially silly example of the government intrusions that conservatives often mocked as the nanny state.
Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, the F.D.A. commissioner appointed by Mr. Obama, soon heard about the White House’s displeasure and called Ms. DeParle at home one evening, people with knowledge of the call confirmed. The women had a decidedly chilly conversation. Within days, the F.D.A., an agency charged with protecting public health, backed down and dropped the notion of calorie counts for foods served in movie theaters and on airplanes.
The White House, for its part, seems to be on guard against Republican attempts to paint the president as a job-killing regulator. A regulation on popcorn - much like a tax on Christmas trees - could bait a media controversy. The FDA, of course, doesn’t see its job as protecting the president from Fox News. The rest of the story is well-worth reading, and available here.