The House Oversight and Accountability Committee is setting its sights on the Biden administration’s mishandling of the baby formula shortage of 2022.
Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. James Comer (R-KY) and Subcommittee on Health Care and Financial Services Chairwoman Rep. Lisa McClain (R-MI) sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf requesting documents related to the government’s response to the nationwide baby formula shortage. The two lawmakers blasted the FDA for not taking any real accountability for mishandling the crisis.
“The Committee on Oversight and Accountability is continuing its investigation into the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) response to the infant formula shortage and its restructuring of the food and nutrition division in response to the infant formula shortage,” the two lawmakers wrote in their letter. “The Reagan-Udall Foundation’s report titled ‘Operational Evaluation of the FDA Human Foods Program,’ found that there was ‘little motivation, and no requirement,’ to ‘facilitate critical thinking and proactive decision-making’ during the infant formula shortage. Despite this report, and the acknowledged need for a major overhaul, you stated that there would be no reassignments nor firings over the administration’s response to the infant formula shortage.”
Comer and McClain also blasted the FDA for shuffling around the food safety and nutrition division instead of firing or reassigning the employees who mishandled the crisis, or taking any kind of real accountability. “As the administration scrambled to contain the issue, families across the nation were presented with the question of how they would feed the infants in their families and communities,” the lawmakers wrote. “Now, instead of removing or reassigning the individuals at fault for the poor response to this crisis, the announced restructuring of the food and nutrition division simply requires certain offices and personnel to report to the newly created position of Deputy Commissioner for Human Foods. The Committee is concerned that the FDA’s restructuring is a superficial attempt—rather than a real effort—to bring accountability and make meaningful changes.”
The Committee then demanded that the FDA turn over a trove of documents related to the crisis, including documents and communications:
- Between the White House and the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services related to the shortage;
- About the FDA’s reorganization plan for the food safety and nutrition division;
- The selection process for a Deputy Commissioner for Human Foods;
- The decision not to fire or reassign any individual involved in the response;
- Outlining the procedures transitioning those units affected by the reorganization;
- Outlining the timeline for implementation of the reorganization.
The committee demanded all documents before April 4.
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News of the nationwide shortage of baby formula began in early 2022. President Joe Biden said he had been aware of the shortage since early April, and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said the administration had known about it since 2021; but no one in the administration publicly addressed it until May 2022. President Joe Biden was forced to import formula from foreign countries in an effort to get product on store shelves.
Families are still feeling the effects of the shortage, nearly a year after it began. According to a report from The Guardian earlier this month, shelves are still empty in some areas and certain brands are out of stock or limited, while the companies that make formula are facing scrutiny from federal regulators and investigators.