Yesterday the United States Department of Health and Human Services did something extraordinary. For the first time ever, the HHS secretary publicly overruled the Food and Drug Administration.
After a careful, lengthy and scientific review, the FDA came to the conclusion that the emergency contraceptive, Plan B, should be available over the counter. In what is clearly a political move to try to win favor with conservative voters before the 2012 election, President Obama’s HHS secretary took the unprecedented move of overruling this FDA decision.
Separate from the specific issue surrounding this decision, what it does show is that the President can and will insert himself into the decision-making of executive agencies at all levels if he wants. He will get involved in even something as minor as the decision about a single drug if he thinks it will help him.
He is the head of the executive branch and and the responsibility for the actions of executive ultimately stops with him. This incident, like Obama’s previous decision to overrule the EPA on new smog regulations, shows that if an agency is not making the choices he wants it to make, he will take extraordinary heavy handed action to intervene to change things.
When executive agencies do things like stage a mutli-agency effort to harass state medical marijuana programs, it is because the President directly or indirectly approves of these actions.
There is no such thing as rogue agencies or significant agency policy changes that don’t have Obama’s direct or implicit approval. The executive branch works for the President. The buck stop with him. Whether you approve or disapprove of the decision federal agencies make, the ultimate blame or credit rest squarely with the President.