Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Return of Henney?

Great little story from Bloomberg on the possibility of former FDA Commissioner Jane Henney returning to FDA in the same role. To read it, click here. This is just the type of story we love to read, so cheers to Bloomberg on this one.

We heard the rumor about a month ago that Jane Henney, not David Kessler, would be the most likely former commissioner to go back to FDA, but "Jane isn't campaigning for the job," a person close to the transition told us. That may be the perfect strategy to getting the job. Kessler, the person says, still has left too many hard feelings among the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill.

Regarding the Henney situation, what we have heard is there are at least two women's groups pushing for former FDAer and George Washington school of public health professor Susan Wood as FDA Commissioner. As we've reported before, Wood was a big Hillary Clinton supporter. To read our earlier Hillary Clinton's FDA post and get a little background, click here. Wood was co-chair of the women's health policy advisory group during the Obama campaign after Hillary lost, which no doubt improves her chances to lead FDA.

The groups pushing for Wood apparently have Henney as their second choice. As we were reminded by a close friend, that's how Abraham Lincoln became President (read your Team of Rivals, people!).

The crux of the Bloomberg story is this:

"An Obama representative asked Henney, who was commissioner from November 1998 until January 2001, if she was interested in the job, and she said yes, according to a person familiar with the matter."

The name for everyone to remember when it comes to FDA and other major agency positions is this one: Don Gips. The former Level 3 Communications VP is the new director of White House Personnel. There's a little bit on him here. There is little chance anyone will be tapped as FDA commissioner without talking to Gips first. It's possible Henney interviewed with Gips during the campaign (he also helped Obama put together his Senate staff) but we find that unlikely. Gips was just recently named to the job so we doubt he's had a chance to interview many, if any, commissioner candidates.

It's unclear when Obama will name the next FDA Commissioner (you can read our story on the interim commissioner by clicking here.). For example, we know that at least one leading commissioner candidate has yet to be contacted by Gips. We've heard that if the administration wants to act quickly, an announcement will be made at the end of the month or the first two weeks of February and a hearing will be scheduled for April/May. A slower vetting process would mean a Senate confirmation hearing wouldn't occur until Fall 2009.

If the administration goes with Henney, it would be the safe pick. She knows the agency and knows many of the people in leadership positions. She would also generate little opposition. That doesn't mean there wouldn't be any opposition.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) would likely put a hold on her nomination because of her role in approving RU-486. The current University of Cinncinnatti SVP and Provost for Health Affairs also would have to explain her involvement in regulated industry. According to her biography on the site, Henney has served on a variety of boards of directors in the health care field, including the Commonwealth Fund in New York City, the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, AmerisourceBergen Corporation in Philadelphia, AstraZeneca PLC in London, the Science Board of MPM Capital in Boston, and the Advisory Group to the Pew Science and Society Institute.

Still, we think she would get through the nomination process. And the folks in Washington policy circles certainly have taken notice that Henney's name is out there.

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