Enforcement actions by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which oversees food and pharmaceutical products, markedly declined under the Bush administration. The number of warning letters issued for various violations dropped by more than half, from 1,154 in 2000 to 535 in 2005, according to a June 2006 report by Representative Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, then ranking minority member of the House Committee on Government Reform. The “number of seizures of mislabeled, defective, and dangerous products” plunged by 44 percent, noted the widely cited report, which also found that officials at FDA headquarters had “routinely rejected the enforcement recommendations of career field staff.”
Among the curtailed warning letters were those for violations of drug marketing practices to consumers. “From 2002 through 2005… it took the agency an average of 4 months to issue a regulatory letter, compared with an average of 2 weeks from 1997 through 2001,” stated a December 2006 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). “FDA has issued about half as many regulatory letters per year since the 2002 policy change.” The FDA has also fallen short in efforts to control “off label” drug use (using prescription drugs for non-prescriptive conditions), according to studies by the Center for Public Integrity and other watchdog groups. The GAO told Congress in July 2008 that the FDA took inordinate time issuing letters for off-label abuses, limiting their effectiveness.
A spokeswoman for the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research told the Center that since companies have better complied after receiving warning letters, the need for additional regulatory and enforcement actions has decreased. “We cannot measure the agency’s enforcement success — nor can we measure industry compliance — by counting warning letters and other actions individually,” she said. Congress passed the Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act of 2007 last fall, giving broader enforcement power to the agency. The impact of the law remains to be seen.