The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced a major new multi-year staffing initiative, which will include filling more than 1,300 positions by the end of the current fiscal year (September 30) alone. This first phase of the recruitment drive, which is being undertaken to implement initiatives including the FDA Amendments Act of 2007 and the Import Safety Action Plan, will include more than 600 newly-created posts and is nearly triple the number of staff hired by the agency during 2005-7.

“It takes a large pool of talented people for the FDA to protect and promote the public health,” said John Dyer, the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Operations and chief operating officer. “Each month there is a delay in bringing critical staff on board impairs the agency’s ability to fulfill this mission,” he added.

The agency is most critically in need of medical officers, consumer safety officers, chemists, nurse consultants, biologists, microbiologists, health/regulatory/general health scientists, mathematical statisticians, epidemiologists, pharmacologists, pharmacists and veterinary medical officers.

It is taking special steps to fill these positions quickly through the use of Direct-Hire Authority, an authority which can be granted to government agencies by the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to fill vacancies when there is a critical hiring need or severe shortage of candidates. This authority expedites the hiring of qualified candidates by eliminating certain rating and ranking preferences, allowing successful candidates to be in their new positions in as little as three weeks.

Agency officials acknowledge that they face strong competition for the best talent from industry, which pays more, and academia, which provides greater freedoms and privacy. But Reuters reports Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), as describing work at the agency as “fascinating….challenging intellectually” and providing staff with a “tremendous opportunity to make a huge difference.”

- In November last year, a report by the FDA’s Science Board warned that US lives are being put at risk because of problems at the agency which include underfunding and staff shortages. The Board pointed to the agency’s difficulties in retaining critical scientific staff and called for the appointment of a chief scientific officer and a significant increase in resources.