HELP THE FDA CUT THE FAT
An efficient government bureaucracy has always been a classic oxymoron. But it doesn't have to be that way. Just look at what's happening at the Food & Drug Administration. Traditionally, the FDA has been about as swift as an arthritic turtle. Its leisurely ivory-tower culture was worlds away from the fiercely competitive industries the agency regulates. When it came to getting drugs approved, FDA reviewers were interested only in not making the wrong decision, not in making decisions fast. Companies lost years of potential sales as their applications for new-product approvals were endlessly scrutinized.
But under Dr. David A. Kessler, the FDA is proving that hidebound bureaucracies can change. In an echo of what's happening in the private sector, Kessler's management team is removing or streamlining layers of middle management. It is reorganizing key parts of the agency along product lines instead of scientific disciplines and replacing antiquated procedures with modern accounting methods and information systems. As a result, the agency is whittling away big backlogs of applications, speeding up some drug reviews, and getting out new regulations faster than ever before. It's also vowing to halve average drug-review time by 1997.
The reinvention of the FDA has a long way to go. Despite Kessler's efforts, the agency is still struggling with reams of government-wide rules, such as those that make buying office supplies more complicated than a lab rat's maze. The FDA is taking the first steps toward a new model of a government agency, but it can go only so far unless the entire federal system is changed. Vice-President Gore's Reinventing Government couldn't have a better place to start than here.