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Report: FDA struggling to attract needed skills

Nov. 19, 2012 - 06:12PM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments

Despite an almost 40 percent increase in staffing over the last five years, the Food and Drug Administration is still struggling to find quality employees needed to keep up with an expanding and highly specialized workload, a new report says.

From 2007 until this September, the FDA’s workforce grew by more than 38 percent to about 15,600 employees, with the help of more revenue from user fees and congressional appropriations, according to the Partnership for Public Service. But meanwhile, Congress was also handing the agency new duties, such as regulating tobacco and taking new steps to head off food-borne diseases.

More than one-fourth of employees are now in temporary positions lasting two to four years and the agency’s overall hiring process is “broken,” the Partnership says in the report. Although on paper, the average time needed to bring a new employee on board is now less than 80 days, hiring candidates from outside government can take months longer. In interviews, “many FDA officials shared the experience of losing out on top talent because of the long human resources turnaround time,” according to the report.

One possible factor behind the lethargic hiring was a 2004 efficiency move by FDA’s parent agency, the Health and Human Services Department, to consolidate 40 human resources offices into four.

As a result, FDA officials said they found a disconnect between human resources managers trying to fill jobs at the agency and program managers who knew the types of skills needed for a particular position. This July, however, the FDA regained control of its human resources function, a step that could lead to faster hiring, the report says.

The report, sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts, comes five years after an FDA science panel found that the agency’s scientific workforce was failing to keep pace with its regulatory responsibilities. Among other steps, the new report recommends that FDA develop “talent pipelines” for high-priority scientific and medical disciplines, update its human capital plan, and track the success of strategies aimed at filling talent gaps.

The FDA’s human resources director, Darla Callaghan, was not available for an interview.

The agency “will consider the recommendations for addressing the workforce and management challenges,” spokeswoman Carla Daniels said in an email.

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