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FDA COMMISSIONER SEARCH: KESSLER APPOINTMENT

Executive Summary

FDA COMMISSIONER SEARCH: KESSLER APPOINTMENT has reached the stage of unofficial public disclosure prior to HHS go-ahead. HHS officials maintain that Secretary Sullivan has not made his final choice. However, the lay media attention given to Albert Einstein Medical Director David Kessler, MD/JD, during the week of Sept. 10-14 is typical of the type of final, unofficial check on the reception for a candidate that government agencies conduct prior to formal announcement of an appointment. A final reading on public acceptability of the FDA candidate is important given the vociferousness of some constituencies (particularly the AIDS activist groups) and the necessity of Senate confirmation. A spokesperson for one of the prominent AIDS activist groups says that the group has no position on Kessler. Whomever Sullivan nominates will face the first confirmation review on Capitol Hill. Kessler, 39, has been on the short-list for the FDA job since late in the spring. The trial balloons in the press fit recent indications that the Kessler choice has received White House blessing ("The Pink Sheet," Sept. 10, In Brief). With Kessler's close ties to Sen. Hatch (R-Utah), it will be difficult for HHS to back off a nomination after the publicity unless strong objections are raised by outside groups. Kessler has four unusual characteristics for recent FDA commissioners: his youth; his close, insider, connections to the health establishment on Capitol Hill; his doctor/lawyer training; and his fore-knowledge of FDA issues, procedures and problems. Kessler would be the youngest FDA commissioner in at least two decades, younger by four years on entering the office than his closest predecessor, Alexander Schmidt, who was 43 when he was appointed in 1973. His age is probably a matter of little real importance, but it could help to create a good image for the agency and fresh start from the bad publicity of the last two years. More importantly, Kessler would take over the job with a strong ally on Capitol Hill: his former boss, Sen. Hatch. That relationship could help on a wide variety of issues ranging from FDA funding (where Hatch has been one of the constant advocates for the agency) to potential attacks on lax regulation of drug promotion from Sen. Kennedy. Kessler was an aide on Hatch's staff at the beginning of the 1980s. As a doctor/lawyer, Kessler's educational background is tailor-made for the scientist-regulator role of FDA. He also has the ivy background that fits comfortably with the character of the Bush Administration. His BA is from Amherst ('73); his MD degree is from Harvard; and his JD is from the University of Chicago. Kessler is currently on the Edwards blue ribbon panel reviewing FDA and is chairing the subcommittee on drug regulatory issues that is scheduled to meet in October. The committee work is equivalent to a thorough briefing on all aspects of FDA's activities. If Kessler gets the FDA appointment, he would have the advantage of having a very experienced deputy commissioner already on board in Acting Commissioner Benson.
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