Hamburg And Her Full Plate : Shots - Health News FDA's New Commissioner Margaret Hamburg tells Robert Siegel today she wants to move the agency into the 21st century and she's "delighted" to take on tobacco
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Hamburg And Her Full Plate

FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. /Evan Vucci/AP hide caption

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/Evan Vucci/AP

New FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg has a reputation for being what my Yiddishe Mama would call a macher -- a person who gets things done. And she's got a lot to do at FDA, she tells NPR's Robert Siegel in an interview that will air on All Things Considered tonight.

When she headed the New York City Health Department, she stopped a tuberculosis epidemic in part by implementing "directly observed therapy" -- requiring health workers to watch people with TB take their medicine to ensure compliance.

Now she's got to get the FDA to take its medicine. Her agency has been accused of being too close to the industries it regulates and too slow to react to dangers like foodborne illness outbreaks. At the same time it's been spurred on by Congress to take up many new duties, such as tobacco regulation.

Hamburg told Siegel she is "delighted" to tackle tobacco. "It's a huge new challenge," she says.

Also, Hamburg isn't willing to cede the "F" in FDA to other agencies, as some critics in Congress have suggested. "It's part of our name and part of our core mission going back to the earliest days of the FDA."

Hamburg admitted that she's walked into a demoralized agency. She didn't blame the top-down policies of previous FDA commissioners, which were widely scene as discouraging to rank-and-file scientists.

Instead, she said it was due to being under-resourced -- something she hopes will change under the current regime in Washington.

"My priorities are really to move the agency into the 21st century," she said.