FDA Bonuses: Boondoggle or Prerequisite for Drug Safety and Efficient Reviews?

An article in the  Associated Press today reported that the Agency has paid workers more than $8 million in bonuses to keep them from defecting to industries, at a time when it is being pressed to spend more on food and drug safety. The bonuses come to about $5,000 or more per employee and are three times higher than what was paid five years ago, but even then FDA accounted for over 40% of the $21.6 million that the government paid in retention bonuses, the article says. The fact is that quite a few FDA employees can earn considerably more in industry than they do at FDA.  That's why so many of them eventually defect.  It takes a certain amount of idealism for the best scientists to stay on. Here's an interview with one of them. Drug development is becoming more complex than ever, and FDA needs to hire, not tired hacks in search of a pension (the typical and extremely unfair stereotype of the government employee), but excellent scientists capable of asking the tough questions of the industry's best scientists when deciding whether or not to approve a new drug. FDA's reviewers and scientists can't afford to be two steps behind their peers in industry if the Agency is to ensure that new drugs are truly safe and if science, rather than politics, is to drive FDA's decisions. And excellence costs money. Morale at FDA is reportedly low, and has been for the past few years. These bonuses are a small price to pay if they help convince more of FDA's best employees to stay on. FDA also needs to fund more education and training, something that Dr. Janet Woodcock has said she plans to do.  But what do you think?  -AMS