Sep 20, 2020 - Health

Trump's health secretary asserts control over all new rules

HHS Secretary Alex Azar and President Donald Trump

HHS Secretary Alex Azar and President Donald Trump. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar wrote a memo this week giving him authority over all new rules and banning any of the health agencies, including the FDA, from signing any new rules "regarding the nation’s foods, medicines, medical devices and other products," the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: The story further underscores reporting that health and scientific agencies are undergoing a deep politicization as the Trump administration races to develop a coronavirus vaccine, as Axios' Caitlin Owens has reported. Peter Lurie, a former associate commissioner of the FDA, told the Times that the Azar memo amounted to a "power grab."

What they're saying: Brian Harrison, Azar's chief of staff, said the changes were simply a "housekeeping matter."

  • "This good governance, housekeeping action, which should have no operational impact because all rules already required departmental clearance, will prevent potential future abuse of authority and is clearly consistent with congressional intent," Harrison said.
  • "This has nothing to do with guidances or any vaccine, drug, or therapeutic approval. Assertions that this was aimed at any specific division or leader are dishonest or uninformed."

Other outside experts believe that the memo could further hinder scientific voices. The CDC this week reversed course on a controversial policy concerning coronavirus testing for asymptomatic people, which was reportedly posted to the agency's website over the objections of scientists.

Go deeper: Trump contradicts CDC chief on when vaccine will be widely available

Editor's note: This story has been updated to remove references to vaccines, which do not go through the rule-making process.

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