On Dec. 23, 2016, President Trump mandated that all politically appointed ambassadors leave their posts by his inauguration, a move that broke a long-standing precedent of flexibility in such deadlines. According to The New York Times, a senior Trump transition aide described the move as a way to ensure President Barack Obama’s appointees left their government roles “on schedule.”
Ambassadors aren’t the only presidentially appointed positions in Washington, D.C. Another is the FDA commissioner.
At press time, Trump had yet to announce his choice to head the FDA, much less what happens with Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA Center for Tobacco Products (CTP). But the administration’s actions so far strongly indicate a change is likely.
“I assume that there will be (a shakeup),” says Perraut, who worked at the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) during the transition from President Bush to President Obama. “It’s pretty unlikely that the political officers will be asked to stay in place.”
Who could step into Zeller’s place is anyone’s guess, but other appointments made by Trump would suggest these new leaders would favor less regulation.
“What we’re seeing with the new administration in terms of regulations is likely to be positive,” Burke says.
Perraut observed the change from former CTP director Lawrence R. Deyton to Zeller firsthand. He says such a transition not only requires time for the new director to become fully acquainted with the CTP and its responsibilities, but it can also mark a radical shift in policy.
Though there wasn’t a major difference between Deyton and Zeller’s priorities, “we can fairly safely assume there will be significant differences” between a Trump-approved director and the current CTP leadership, Perraut says.
Given that the tobacco industry largely decried Zeller’s major regulatory action—deeming—as bad for business, a shift in scribed attitude at CTP would be welcome news.
And even if Zeller were to remain in his current role, Perraut anticipates a slowdown in regulatory actions at the CTP and beyond.
“The Trump administration has signaled that they are intending to undertake pretty significant changes to the rule-making process,” Perraut says, pointing to the “one in, two out” executive order signed Jan. 30, 2017, which requires agencies to eliminate two existing rules for every major new rule they want to enact.
“FDA is going to be facing some very difficult choices in what to prioritize,” says Perraut.
Created in 2009 as part of the Tobacco Control Act, the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products has operated only under President Barack Obama.
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