Director of Innovate FDA Discusses Progress in Workforce Planning

We depend on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure that the medical innovations are safe and effective. Director of Innovate FDA and PEW Health Expert, Kathleen Stratton, has said, “FDA has a critical mission to promote and protect the public health and we should all care about their ability to do that.”

Chris Dorobek of the DorobekINSIDER spoke with Stratton at length regarding Innovate FDA, as well as the recent report released by the Partnership for Public Service, The State of the FDA Workforce. They spoke about key takeaways from the Partnership’s report, as well as the great opportunity the FDA has to establish new and effective Human Resources processes to enhance their workforce.

First, there are three main areas that Stratton identified as the focus for Innovate FDA: “The way in which FDA reviews the data that come in from industry; the way they evaluate those thousands of pages of data as well as the science that the FDA has to help develop to evaluate these products; and then the critical staff who work there – physicians, engineers, statisticians.” In looking at this last area, the Partnership’s report takes a close look at the progress the FDA has made in workforce planning and analyzes the agency’s recruitment, hiring, and retention processes. As Stratton emphasized, “The doctors and nurses who work there, who evaluate the products, are the backbone of the agency and we should all care that the best scientists and researchers go work at the FDA.”

Describing FDA staff, Stratton explained to Dorobek that they are highly educated, with over 40 percent having obtained a masters degree or higher. Further, within the mission critical positions, 15 of the 16 occupations are in science or in engineering. Human capital is essential to accomplishing the agency mission, and recruiting and retaining new talent is integral to their success. “They need to do everything they can to ensure that they are identifying the cutting edge scientists and statisticians, being able to recruit them, being able to hire them once the person is identified, and then have career development opportunities in place so people want to stay at FDA and continue doing the good, hard work that they do every day.”

Given these highly specialized workforce needs within the FDA, previous movement toward shared services in human resources has been identified as ineffective. As Stratton explained, “ With regard to the human resources decentralization, this is a great moment in time for the FDA to stand up a great HR office.” She identified that the system for hiring people should be smoother than it was before; because of the highly technical work, it is even more important for human resource managers to understand and be highly responsive to the workforce needs within FDA.

The report also identifies the need for greater partnerships within the health sector at large; Stratton said that, “there should be strategic alliances between the agency and academic institutions, industry, and other parts of the private sector.” Developing these alliances will better facilitate the recruitment of top talent to the FDA, and ensure that only the best products are approved for patient care.

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