Yes, it's true the FDA didn't have a permanent leader during Biden's first year in office

Janet Woodcock had been the FDA's Acting Commissioner for the entire Biden presidency until Feb. 15, 2022, when the Senate finally confirmed a permanent replacement.

UPDATE (2/16/22): The Senate voted 50-46 to confirm Dr. Robert Califf as FDA Commissioner on Feb. 15, 2022, replacing Acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock. Califf previously served as the FDA Commissioner from Feb. 2016 to Jan. 2017. This story's headline has been updated, but the story as originally written appears below.

The FDA is responsible for approving the use of medicine and vaccines in the United States, which has given the agency weight in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic as it decides on which treatments and vaccines are authorized or approved for use in treatment and prevention of the virus.

A viewer asked VERIFY if there really wasn’t a permanent head of the FDA after they read that President Joe Biden had not yet nominated someone since assuming office.


Is the FDA currently acting without a permanent head?



This is true.

Yes, the FDA currently does not have a permanent commissioner. President Biden appointed Janet Woodcock as the Acting Commissioner of the FDA on Jan. 20 to replace Stephen Hahn and will need to nominate a permanent commissioner to the Senate by mid-November.


President Biden selected Janet Woodcock to serve as Acting Commissioner of the FDA on the day of his inauguration, Jan. 20. She was appointed to replace Stephen Hahn, who stepped down from his role as FDA commissioner that same day after leading the agency since he was approved by the Senate on Dec. 17, 2019. A permanent commissioner has to be confirmed by a simple majority of the Senate, and Biden has yet to put forth a nominee. 

According to the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998, the president may appoint an officer or employee of an executive agency to fill an officer vacancy in that same agency. However, the appointed officer can only serve in the role for 210 days plus an additional 90 days if the vacancy opens up around the president’s inauguration. That means Biden has until mid-November to nominate a replacement. 

It’s not unusual for an incoming president to replace the head of the FDA, according to the FDA’s timeline of commissioners. FDA commissioners have stepped down from their role the last four times a new administration entered the White House. The Senate approved Donald Trump’s and Barack Obama’s FDA nominees about four months after their inaugurations. But the FDA went without a permanent head for 22 months at the start of George W. Bush’s presidency; the agency was instead led by its deputy commissioner until the Senate approved Mark McClellan to be the FDA’s new commissioner.

President Biden has yet to name a nominee for the agency. He is allowed to nominate Acting Commissioner Woodcock to the permanent position, but a simple majority of the Senate would still need to approve her shift from acting commissioner to the commissioner.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki responded to questions about the vacancy in September. On Sept. 10, she said President Biden was “eager to find the right person to fill that role” and on Sept. 16 she promised the Biden Administration would announce it as soon as it has selected a candidate to nominate for the FDA commissioner role. 

More from VERIFY: Yes, there are treatments for children with COVID-19

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