Amid high praise, FDA's top cop quits

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Calling it “a tremendous loss for the agency,” FDA commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach announced in June that the impending departure after three years in the job of the agency's top enforcement officer, who had come under fierce criticism for accepting hefty bonuses and trying to close agency laboratories as epidemics of tainted imports and vegetables erupted.

Von Eschenbach promised “a proper and fond farewell” for Margaret O'K. Glavin closer to the early-August date of her retirement after 40 years in government, adding that the “nation as a whole and the FDA in particular, have benefited from Maggie's dedicated efforts to protect consumers and to enhance the health of all Americans.”

Glavin's tenure as associate commissioner for regulatory affairs (ACRA), a position long recognized informally as the FDA's toughest job, was pockmarked by controversies and criticism. These focused on her ultimately defeated plans to “streamline” the field organization by closing labs and centralizing administration in DC, just as epidemics of tainted imports and vegetables erupted.

She was also faulted for being among top-level employees who received substantial cash awards and “retention” bonuses last year to encourage them to stay rather than accept lucrative private-sector job offers. According to FDA documents handed over to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Glavin was paid the base salary of $167,156.80 plus $36,539.20 retention bonus plus $12,004 cash award.

Her job is seen as being the FDA's most uncomfortable because it is the chokepoint where political, regulatory and legal pressures converge whenever powerful companies choose to resist FDA enforcement action. 

Since the Bush administration took office, recent incumbents have not lasted long there. Glavin's three-year stint approximates that of her two immediate Bush-era predecessors—John M. Taylor III and Dennis Baker. In less politicized times, ACRAs lasted five to 10 years in the job.

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