By Sy Mukherjee
January 15, 2019

Good afternoon, readers.

The federal government shutdown—the longest in U.S. history—has now reached its 25th day. Government workers are missing paychecks or working for free, TSA agents are quitting their jobs, and the Trump administration has been resorting to stopgap measures to make sure that services like IRS tax refunds and food stamps aren’t hampered in the short term.

Government shutdowns are complicated and have wide-reaching consequences. That includes the services of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as the agency’s own commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, has taken pains to point out over the past few weeks.

Reports that the FDA would have to severely cut back on food safety inspections as a consequence of the shutdown understandably elicited blowback. A stunning 40% of the FDA workforce is currently furloughed, and the agency is redirecting funds in order to keep essential services going.

There was a temporary blip of good news on Tuesday, when Gottlieb said on Twitter that about 400 workers are returning to their posts from furlough (including about 150 focused on food safety).

“About 400 total staff are being engaged in this mobilization. The vast majority are inspectors and others are professionals who work in support inspectors. About 150 of the 400 are focused on food inspections, the rest are focused on other aspects of our mission,” said Gottlieb.

Additionally, some of the returning staff is centered on the other critical issues the FDA is tasked with, including medical device and drug manufacturing inspections.

“This includes about 100 staff focused on inspections of high risk medical device manufacturing facilities; about 70 staff focused on inspections of high risk drug manufacturing facilities; and about 90 staff focused on inspections of high risk biological manufacturing facilities,” said Gottlieb.

But these are extraordinary measures. Many of these returning employees are coming back to work despite the knowledge they won’t be paid for it. It’s a stopgap measure in the most literal sense.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


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