Policy-ish

Take A Peek Behind FDA's Velvet Curtain

Do you know what the Deputy Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration looks like? Wondering about the organizational chart for the FDA's biologics center? Maybe you're just wondering what the heck is a medical device? Check out FDA's new website, FDA Basics.

OK, maybe you don't want to see the faces of formerly faceless bureaucrats. But on FDA Basics you can watch videos where top FDA staffers explain what they do, find out how drugs are approved, or how the FDA regulates cosmetics (it doesn't approve cosmetics themselves, but it does approve color additives), post questions and join in on webinars.

The FDA already has a website. This new one is part of an effort by FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg to make the workings of the agency less mystical — i.e. more transparent.

Today's website rollout is phase one of the transparency initiative — the public outreach. Phase two, which the FDA hopes to have ready by the end of February, is aimed at keeping people up on the agency's daily activities. And phase three — information for industries regulated by the FDA — is due out a couple of months after that.

One thing to remember — transparency works both ways. The agency warns that if you post a query at the FDA Basics website, it's subject to the Freedom of Information Act. People requesting information on a specific topic — one you've written in about — could wind up with your initial query and contact information.

Will it really lead us to a deeper understanding of how the agency works? We'll be watching.

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