As I See It: The threat to FDA independence

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James G. Dickinson
James G. Dickinson

It's time to bury the old FDA that clings to its independence from politics, and welcome the new one with its short White House policy leash. That's the bottom line of several recent developments concerning the Obama Administration's “open government” record at the agency.

An April 2 New York Times exposé on White House interference in FDA decisions quoted an administration source as saying that a politically independent FDA belongs in “a world that doesn't exist any more.”

The Obama crackdown on whistleblowers has led to twice as many cases (six) being brought as were brought in the previous 100 years (three).

Add in FDA's February admission that it was monitoring employees' personal emails, and you see an administration that cares more about leaks than its predecessor, which was called the most secretive administration in U.S. history.

This White House wants to control what information becomes public. It adds daily to a vast area of “nonpublic” information about internal operations that since 9/11 has been created at agencies like FDA without explicit statutory authority.

“Nonpublic” information is sequestered for such specious reasons as the fact that nobody has decided to release it, or it may be regarded as “premature” or “incomplete,” or it may be embarrassing to some poorly performing official. Essentially, it is not “classifiable” information by any legal standard.

Meanwhile, a recent Society of Professional Journalists survey of journalists said that information flow in the U.S. is highly regulated and restricted by government public affairs officers like those at FDA.

So much for “open government.”

James G. Dickinson is editor of Dickinson's FDA Webview (
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