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Funding boost fuels FDA supplement office’s ‘aggressive hiring’

TAGS: Supplements
FDA buildings 2020
In an interview, FDA's supplements chief, Steven Tave, discussed hiring new employees, his office's achievements and whether he plans to leave his post.

FDA’s top official responsible for overseeing the massive market for dietary supplements has ramped up the size of his office to nearly 30 employees and is continuing to hire personnel—thanks to increased funding.

The Office of Dietary Supplement Programs (ODSP) has 29 employees, including a person on detail from another FDA office.

“We were down to 25 (employees) at the beginning of the year,” ODSP Director Steven Tave said in an interview. “We had four departures starting about a year ago after a long time of no attrition, and we started to build back and backfill some of those positions and build out some new ones.”

Tave and his 28 colleagues are responsible for overseeing a market that Nutrition Business Journal anticipates will far exceed $50 billion in 2020 sales.

The supplement office received a substantial boost in fiscal year 2020 funding through an omnibus appropriations bill signed by President Donald Trump. Report language in the bill allocated an additional $3 million to ODSP.

Nathan Arnold, an FDA spokesman, said ODSP received a total of $10.7 million in FY20. FDA is currently being funded at the same levels as last fiscal year under a continuing resolution passed by Congress.

“We’ve got additional funding, and so we’re in the process of doing some aggressive hiring,” Tave said. “You can’t control how fast that goes, but we’re at 29, for all intents and purposes, and hoping to continue to grow.”

Tave, who has been on the job about 4.5 years as either acting or permanent director, is not headed for the exits.

“I have no plans to leave,” Tave assured, when asked about his future plans. “I’m very fortunate to be in the job that I’m in.”

Tave previously served as acting director of FDA’s Office of Unapproved New Drugs and Labeling Compliance. He began his career as an attorney and practiced law for nearly 15 years as a litigator in FDA’s Office of Chief Counsel and in private practice.

“There’s a lot of work still to be done, but I think one of the things I’m most proud of is that we have a very strong office right now,” he said.

Tave added his office has sought to make “it less about the whims of any one person who happens to be in a position of authority and more about institutionalizing the right way to make decisions and the right way to document those decisions and how to be transparent and predictable for stakeholders.”

Tave is the first permanent director of ODSP since FDA created the office in December 2015. Previously, FDA oversaw herbs, vitamins and other natural products through the Division of Dietary Supplement Programs.

Many former FDA officials who oversaw the supplement sector have left the government and now work in the industry, including Dan Fabricant, Ph.D., the leader of the Natural Products Association (NPA), and Bill Frankos, Ph.D., a senior corporate adviser of product science, safety and compliance with Herbalife Nutrition.

Bob Durkin, who was acting director of ODSP before Tave joined the office and subsequently served as second-in-command under Tave, left the agency in late 2019 to practice law with Arnall Golden Gregory LLP (AGG). Another former ODSP official, Sibyl Swift, Ph.D., is currently senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs with NPA.

“While I have no intention of leaving at this point, eventually everybody leaves,” Tave admitted, “and whenever that time comes for me, I think the office is going to be in very good hands.”

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