What is the FDA Vision? Communications During Crisis

J0411701"Simply put, our food safety system in this country is broken," Dr. David Kessler, quoted in the Los Angeles Times, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. "The fact is that food safety has been a second-tier priority within the FDA."  Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach was reported to disagree that the food safety system is broken.  Then the FDA announced a bandage for the food safety system…

In the wake of criticism about food safety, the FDA announced yesterday the formation of a new food safety czar.  Once again, whether by choice or not, the FDA is handling a crisis not be proactive communications, but by reactive efforts that only make the agency appear without a vision at the same time the agency is trying to enunciate a vision.  On the heels of his statement that the system is not broken, an announcement is made to fix it by Dr. von Eschenbach. 

Perhaps this was a long standing plan of the commissioner’s – to address food safety, but how would we know?

If one looks at the speeches posted on the FDA Web site by the new FDA Commissioner, one sees a vacuum.  Since shifting gears from acting commissioner to commissioner, there is not a single speech listed – not only is there not a speech outlining his vision and priorities – there are no speeches.  The last one posted was from December 2006 and was given by an employee no longer with the FDA.  Where there is a communications vacuum, nature fills it, but that doesn’t mean it will be filled with the FDA’s vision. 

Rather the blank space allows people to project their own point of view.  And as long as that happens and the FDA cedes its authority to enunciate vision, each and every action like this will appear reactive instead of proactive.  Events then appear to control the agency, rather than vice versa. 

That is good crisis communications advice. 

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One Response to What is the FDA Vision? Communications During Crisis

  1. One reason that the CPI is not getting enough exposure is that the FDA is pursuing specific initiatives under that umbrella and publicizing them separately. They normally mention in passing that this is part of the CPI.
    One example of this are recent talks and presentations related to adaptive clinical trials. If you do a search in Google on adaptive trials, you will see some items come up related to the FDA.
    So, perhaps they could do a better job publicizing the CPI but that would take a fairly disciplined dissemination method. Not sure that the FDA has the means to pull that one off.