The measure of presidents relates to those they appoint to key positions. Many of George W. Bush’s appointees have impeccable credentials, superior character and stellar accomplishments.
As new Chief Justice, Judge Roberts is perhaps the premium example. The jury is out on whether Roberts’ leadership will unite the United States or feed the culture wars that threaten to rip it apart.
Many of President Bush’s appointments seem to be doing well. For example, Condoleezza Rice is proving an effective boundary-spanner between Bush and us all on the one hand, and the rest of our progressively multi-polar world on the other. Her management of what seems an inevitable transition to a multi-polar world can bring us greater world peace by reducing and eliminating tensions between various warring groups.
Unfortunately, other Bush appointments are serious failures. In the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, FEMA’s ex-chief Mike Brown is current Exhibit A.
Another serious appointment failure should concern us perhaps even more: the lack of effective and balanced leadership of the Food and Drug Administration.
Lester Crawford’s recent resignation as FDA commissioner surprised most pundits. This long-time FDA veteran lasted barely two months at the helm. Crawford allegedly wrote this in an e-mail to FDA employees, “After three and half years as deputy commissioner, acting commissioner and, finally, as commissioner, it is time, at the age of 67, to step aside.”
Speculation will be rife about the true reasons for this resignation. For sure, effective leadership in two months is impossible
President Bush appointed Andrew von Eschenbach, director of the National Cancer Institute, as acting FDA commissioner. Why? Why appoint someone whose plate was already overloaded to run a troubled agency whose credibility is suspect to many? Ethically, how could the head of one huge regulated agency (NCI) simultaneously run the regulator (FDA)?
Despite taking a temporary leave of absence from the NCI directorship to address conflicts of interest charges, Eschenbach’s leadership at the FDA may be undermined by the seeming lack of forethought in his initial appointment.
Based on good science, the FDA has a relatively good track record of efficiently ensuring food and drug safety. However, ideology now sometimes seems to trump truth (e.g. the morning-after pill or Plan B) and profits occasionally appear valued more than public health (e.g. Vioxx). The public deserves an FDA it can trust.
To fulfill its responsibility for protecting our well-being, FDA judgments must be truth-based. Thus, personal and ideological loyalties cannot hold sway. Profit matters less than public health. We must have competent leaders guiding important agencies. If not, serious suffering can and will ensue, e.g. Katrina and Rita.
Isaac Mwase is associate professor of philosophy and bioethics at Tuskegee University.