HHS asserts ‘power grab’ over FDA rule-making

Sept. 22, 2020

The FDA has been barred from passing any new rules without the approval of the Alex Azar, the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Last week, the 27 health agencies overseen by HHS, including the FDA, received a memo explaining the new measure. Typically, new rules are authorized by agency officials or heads. Now, they will need to be codified by Azar.

In a New York Times report, Azar’s chief of staff called the new policy a simple “housekeeping matter,” but critics have called it a “power grab” of an agency that is already being closely scrutinized for fears of political influence. So far, it is unclear what — if any — impact the new protocol will have on the FDA’s work regarding coronavirus vaccines and treatments. 

Over the weekend, Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA commissioner, told Face the Nation that it is the “wrong move at the wrong time.” 

“This sends the wrong message at a time when we want to reaffirm the independence of these agencies,” he said. “To do this now makes no sense.”

He also said that conservative groups have long sought to implement such a measure so that the legitimacy of certain rules signed by lower level agency officials could be legally challenged. Others have speculated that the move was meant to strip the FDA’s current commissioner, Stephen Hahn, of his rule-making powers.