By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff
In June, FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf posted a blog touting the mission of the regulatory agency and outlining its plans to hire additional staff to meet those needs. That posting at FDA.gov came four months after the federal agency submitted its budget requests to Congress that called for an 8 percent increase in hoped-for monies.
In its request, the FDA cited a new food safety monitoring system, improving medical evaluations and support for the cancer “moonshot” initiative supported by Vice President Joe Biden. As the agency looks to expand its roles, it also calls for the additional hiring of “more chemists, biomedical engineers, statisticians and medical doctors,” the International Business Times reported in February. Those various positions will allow the agency to continue to speed up review of applications for approval of new drugs as well as implement food and safety standards. The FDA has plans to hire more than 400 new science-based staff members next year, the IB Times said.
However, the FDA has had problems competing with the private sector, which can offer substantially higher salaries to employees, along with stock options that could yield outsized financial returns. While salaries certainly range across a broad spectrum, the FDA is at a disadvantage when recruiting employees from the private sector who might have to divest themselves of pharma stocks if it’s deemed a conflict of interest.
Earlier this year, BioSpace highlighted average salaries in some of the hottest pharma and biotech sectors, with ranges of just below $90,000 to more than $140,000. Salaries for scientists at the FDA range from about $70,000 to more than $100,000 depending on the role of the scientists, according to Glassdoor.com. Those salaries can certainly jump, especially as an employee climbs the ranks of their company or government organization. C-level employees of private-sector companies can earn salaries in the high six- to seven- or even eight-figure salaries.
But not only is there a monetary difference when it comes to the FDA recruiting, there’s also a certain stigma about lack of innovation. Citing the Partnership for Public Service, the IB Times said there can be a feeling among the science community that the FDA is not a place where innovators want to work. Although, the FDA does provide opportunities for exciting scientific work, Jesse Goodman, an infectious disease scientist and the former chief scientist at the FDA told the IB Times.
Another problem for the FDA is actually retaining quality scientists. FDA scientists with regulatory experience become hot commodities for private sector recruiters who are interested in tapping the skills and knowledge of people familiar with the “ins and outs” of FDA regulatory hurdles.
Timing can also be a factor, as the FDA can sometimes take up to six months to make a formal offer to a prospective employee – long after the initial interview rounds. Six months is akin to an ice age when compared to the speed that private companies can act. All of these issues are not new at the FDA and were first highlighted in 2007 in the “Mission at Risk” report, which focused on the FDA’s inability to recruit and retain scientists. Last year, the FDA released its “Mission Possible” report that outlined steps the federal agency has taken to rectify the situation – steps that include increased retention pay. The FDA’s report did not go unnoticed and some lawmakers on Capitol Hill submitted a bill, the FDA and NIH Workforce Authorities Modernization Act, which would bolster the ability of the FDA, as well as the National Institutes of Health, to hire and retain staff.
In his blog post, Califf touted the importance of the FDA mission and the staff that makes it possible. He said the work done at the agency is handled by professionals on “front-line issues that make a real difference in the lives of all Americans.”
“While the work of FDA scientists helps to advance scientific understanding, it goes much further than that. That’s because our work is directly tied to regulatory decisions. As such, it has a powerful and immediate effect on the health of millions of Americans,” Califf said.
Throughout the blog, Califf cited various FDA scientists who spoke of their work’s importance. Those examples built up toward his recruiting pitch aimed at all levels, including interns to full-time employees. The FDA, he said, is seeking greater flexibility when it comes to hiring in order to compete with private sector positions.
“I want to see more professionals take advantage of the opportunities FDA offers to collaborate on some of the most transformative scientific issues of our times – both for their benefit and for the nation’s. We need the best scientific minds to tackle the challenges of food safety, medical product development, and to evaluate how emerging technologies are affecting FDA-regulated products so that our reviewers can make science-based decisions about a product’s benefits and risks,” Califf said.
He added that The career opportunities at FDA are “enormous.”
“I look forward to welcoming the next generation of scientists of every stripe to help us fulfill our mission. It’s not only good for science and essential to FDA’s ability to protect and promote public health; it’s a unique opportunity for these talented scientists and their careers,” Califf said.