Confirmation And Nomination News, Non-Scalia Edition

Contrary to the sturm und drang of the political class (and press) over judicial nominations, the Senate still confirms nominees and the President still nominates people to serve.

The latest cases in point for science and technology jobs involve the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Library of Congress.

In a slightly shorter time than I had predicted, Dr. Robert Califf was confirmed by the Senate to become the new Commissioner of the FDA.  Several senators had sought to block the nomination, including current Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.  Califf has been with the FDA since 2015 when he was appointed the Deputy Commissioner for the Office of Medical Products and Tobacco.

With the exception of Senator Sanders the stated objections by Senators were due to concerns over specific FDA policies.  Senators Markey and Manchin are concerned with how the FDA approves opiod-based painkillers and Senator Murkowski wants the FDA to label genetically modified salmon.  Echoing the concerns of other critics, Senator Sanders sought to block the nomination over Califf’s ties to the pharmaceutical industry based on his time leading the Duke Clinical Research Center.  (Matthew Herper at Forbes suggests that Califf could have been appointed to lead the FDA back in 2009 if not for those ties, which Herper does not consider disqualifying)

Califf was unanimously approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (Senator Sanders, a committee member, was not present at the hearing and could not vote no) in January, and the Senate advanced his confirmation to a vote on Monday.  The vote to advance the nomination was 80-6 in favor, and the confirmation vote was 89-4 in favor.

Senators Manchin and Markey were joined by Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire in voting against the nomination (Sanders, and the other Senators running for President, did not vote) Califf.  Joining those four Senators in voting against advancing the nomination were Senator Bill Nelson of Florida and Senator Rob Portman of Ohio.

On Wednesday President Obama announced he would nominate Carla Hayden to become the next Librarian of Congress.  Hayden is currently the CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, and has served in that post since 1993.  She is a member of the National Museum and Library Services Board, confirmed to that post by the Senate in 2010.  She has worked in libraries and museums for most of her four decade career, most of that time in Baltimore and Chicago.

This nomination, coming after the 28-year tenure of the recently retired Librarian, James Billington, will likely mean notable scrutiny to the nomination, the first of the Information Age.  IT infrastructure is an issue for the Library, as noted by this 2015 GAO report.  The current Chief Information Officer has been on the job since September, after three years with no one in the position.  A possible source of contention is over copyright, as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) released a statement congratulating Hayden but also “hop[ing] that the new Librarian would continue to demonstrate…respect for the Copyright Office’s expertise.”

While I suspect that the RIAA would make this statement regardless of whomever the President nominated, this video of Dr. Hayden could be interpreted as representing a potential Librarian of Congress that would be focused on making more information available to more people more easily.  Someone that sees the Library of Congress as the nation’s library more than the Congress’s library.

No confirmation hearing has been scheduled at this time.


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