FDA's Kessler Quits

Despite a White House request that he stay in his post, FDA Commis. David Kessler, a Bush appointee who was reappointed by Pres. Clinton, "caught everyone by surprise," deciding to leave. He plans to stay until a successor is found which may not be until late January. Public health officials "uttered small cries of alarm," while industries ranging from tobacco to medical manufacturers "exhaled quietly in relief" (Vendantam/Geiger, PHILA. INQUIRER, 11/26).

Kessler "led the most significant government fight ever against the tobacco industry, reversing two centuries of federal restraint." The "high-point" of Kessler's tenure came in an 8/96 Rose Garden ceremony in which Pres. Clinton declared nicotine an addictive drug and gave the FDA new powers to regulate it (Zitner/Rosenberg, BOSTON GLOBE, 11/26).

TUMULT: During his "tumultuous" tenure, Kessler also "worked to standardize nutrition labeling" and took steps to "speed drug approval." Public health advocates termed Kessler's tenure a "success," but he also made "enemies" in the tobacco industry and among some conservatives who thought he favored too much gov't regulation and considered him unwilling to cut FDA bureaucracy. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) became a "persistent critic" and Bob Dole made Kessler's ouster one of his campaign promises (Burros, N.Y. TIMES, 11/26).

NBC's Hager noted Kessler is "reportedly being pursued by several universities." Kessler's wife "is known to have tired of Washington politics. Also, there was a recent flap about some of his expense accounts, uncovering dozens of errors and forcing Kessler to write an $850 reimbursement check to the government" (11/25). Kessler "says his resignation had nothing to do" with the travel expenses (Levy/Manning, USA TODAY, 11/26).

SUCCESSOR: Kessler "said several top officials" at the FDA are capable of running it. "Possible candidates" include deputy commissioners Mark Pendergast, William Schultz and Michael Friedman as well as ex-FDA official Michael Taylor, who now heads up the food safety program at the Dept. of Agriculture (Schwartz, W. POST, 11/26).

THANKSGIVING: News of Kessler's plans "buoyed" Wall Street, led by a "spike" in cigarette co. stocks, and came as "good news" to some GOPers. Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN): "I view this as welcome news. Hopefully, the president will forward the nomination of someone who can work more effectively with Congress in reforming the FDA" (Goldreich, W. TIMES, 11/26). Medical device manufacturers, who thought the FDA took too long to approve new products, were also "happy" (Cimons, L.A. TIMES, 11/26). Some tobacco state Dems were also pleased. Rep. Scotty Baesler (D- KY): "We're glad to see it" (USA TODAY, 11/26).

TV: NBC's Brokaw: "You can almost hear the cheers in the tobacco companies" (11/25). ABC's Strait: "For Republicans especially, David Kessler became the symbol of government regulation gone too far." Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX): "The FDA as an institution, in my opinion, was more concerned about institutional power, became very punitive in their attitude" (11/25). ABC's Strait: "Already many Republicans in the Senate say, they'll never approve a FDA Commissioner as aggressive as David Kessler" (11/25).

IN HIS OWN WORDS: Kessler, asked if the GOP will get their "radical reform" at the FDA: "The American people want their foods to be safe. Sure we can streamline the process, but when it comes to health and safety you can't deregulate." (ABC, 11/25).

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