Obama Eyes Consumer Activists for Agency Posts

FDA, EPA targeted as needing reformers to lead

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and other government agencies that affect consumers, are likely to look very different under President Obama than they do under President Bush.

With the priority on economic posts, no consumer agency heads have yet been announced, though that hasn't stopped Washington from engaging in its favorite pastime, speculating on who's up and who's down.

At EPA, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. appears to have the inside track to head the agency. The Washington Post quotes sources familiar with the process as saying Kennedy is a strong candidate, through several other prominent environmentalists are also in the running.

Kennedy, son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, currently chairs a water quality group and serves as an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

If it turns out not to be Kennedy, the sources tell the Post that former Sierra Club president and environmental activist Lisa Renstrom is under consideration, as is California Air Resources Board chair Mary Nichols. Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty and Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles also reportedly have a shot at landing the post.

Most of the speculation centers on a Commissioner for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a frequent target of critics from both sides of the aisle during the Bush Administration. Both Republicans and Democrats complained that the agency seemed to be a bit too cozy with the industries it regulated. It went four of Bush's eight years with only an acting Commissioner.

Among the names surfacing this week for FDA Commissioner in the Obama Administration are Dr. Steven Nissen, a cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic and an outspoken consumer advocate; Susan Wood, a former director of the FDA's women's health office; and public health advocates such as Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, Baltimore's chief health officer.

"The FDA's going to have to re-earn the trust of the public," said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director for the consumer group Public Citizen's Health Research Group.

In addition to a strong commissioner, Wolfe and others would like to see the FDA receive more resources and power. Late last year an unlikely alliance that included the Consumer Federation of America and Center for Science in the Public Interest, as well as the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute, publicly supported efforts by Congressional Democrats to beef up the FDA's FY2009 budget.

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