Yes, that would be the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner. Quite a job.
Just last week, President Obama nominated Dr. Robert Califf to head up this agency, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dr. Califf has been deputy commissioner since January and has to be confirmed by the Senate, but he's widely expected to move forward into this role. The FDA has had an acting commissioner since Dr. Margaret Hamburg stepped down this past April.
A cardiologist and researcher at Duke University, Dr. Califf is known for leading many clinical trials, being extremely well published and for serving on many FDA advisory committees.
Yet, he doesn't move forward without at least some controversy. Some have raised his ties to the pharmaceutical industry as worrisome. The Washington Post reports that "A 2014 financial disclosure showed his salary at Duke was underwritten partly by funding from large drug makers such as Eli Lilly, Novartis and Merck. He also reported receiving fees from a range of other pharmaceutical companies."
In addition, the New York Times reports:
"While the previous commissioner, Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, a former top health official in New York City, came from the field of public health, Dr. Califf ran a multimillion-dollar clinical research center at Duke University that received more than 60 percent of its funding from industry.
He has written scientific papers with pharmaceutical company researchers, and his financial disclosure form last year listed seven drug companies and a device maker that paid him for consulting and six others that partly supported his university salary, including Merck, Novartis and Eli Lilly. A conflict-of-interest section at the end of an article he wrote in the European Heart Journal last year declared financial support from more than 20 companies."
His supporters - and there are many - note that this is all just part of getting the job done, that accepting industry dollars allows him the ability to continue working in the medical field, running trials, publishing papers, making medical advances.
But it's important nonetheless. The FDA is in the thick of dealing with and implementing food safety legislation, menu labeling, figuring out how to regulate e-cigarettes and how to get drugs to market faster, among many other timely topics.
Nobody seems to think Dr. Califf will seek to limit oversight or regulation, and many have said he conducts himself with the utmost integrity. Perhaps it raises a larger issue of the infamous D.C revolving door, the relationships one brings to government and how it may impact oversight over the short- and long-term. Before appointing someone with industry ties, it's important to assess how it may affect their perspective and ultimately, their positions.
Before you finish reading this, check out the VERY long list of what FDA regulates. No matter what field we're in, or what we choose to care about, this agency's oversight affects us all.