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FDA Pick Spent Life 'Preparing For This Job'


Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden. President Obama today named his choice to head the Food and Drug Administration. He said he made the choice because of his concern about the lack of inspection in America's food supply.

P: That's a hazard to public health. It's unacceptable, and it will change under the leadership of Dr. Margaret Hamburg.

LYDEN: NPR's Joanne Silberner reports on Margaret Hamburg's qualifications to lead the Food and Drug Administration.

JOANNE SILBERNER: If Margaret Hamburg wins Senate confirmation, she'd be taking charge of an agency in trouble, says William Hubbard. For 13 years before retiring, he was the policy chief at the FDA.

M: I think the president's remarks are a reflection of the dire concerns many in Congress and among the public have about our food safety system, that there's just a concern that FDA can't protect us from unsafe food.

SILBERNER: But Hubbard says Hamburg's experiences as New York City health commissioner, among other things, means she can handle this.

M: You could argue she has spent her life preparing for a job like this by being a public health official. She has the skill, the experience, the commitment to public health that's probably perfect for this sort of challenge.

SILBERNER: Former FDA commissioner Donald Kennedy has known Margaret Hamburg since she was a child. Kennedy and Hamburg's parents were all professors at Stanford University. He's watched as Hamburg, now 53 years old, made her way through the world.

M: I would characterize her in two ways: being very, very smart and thoughtful, and also calm.


M: When she's facing a complicated situation, she has a great sense of being unbothered, being cool. She's a lot like Obama himself in that respect, I think.

SILBERNER: Hamburg has faced some challenging situations in her career, especially during those six years in the 1990s, when she was New York City health commissioner. There was a tuberculosis epidemic. Hamburg instituted an aggressive program to find people with TB and make sure they took their medications.

LYDEN: We do have individuals who have been repeatedly noncompliant, and that's why we feel we also, as public-health officials, have to have the power to take more aggressive action in those cases so that we can protect the health of the public.

SILBERNER: The prescription drug manufacturers' trade group didn't have anyone available to talk about Dr. Hamburg, but they did issue a statement saying they applaud the selection. Joanne Silberner, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Joanne Silberner is a health policy correspondent for National Public Radio. She covers medicine, health reform, and changes in the health care marketplace.