Academic journal article The Public Manager

Establishment of Priorities for the Federal Government's Foods Program: The Former Director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Shares a Case Study of an Effective Approach to Building Predictability, Transparency, and Accountability into Agency Expectations

Academic journal article The Public Manager

Establishment of Priorities for the Federal Government's Foods Program: The Former Director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Shares a Case Study of an Effective Approach to Building Predictability, Transparency, and Accountability into Agency Expectations

Article excerpt

I was appointed director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA's) Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) in February 1998. When I came onboard, CFSAN's resources were at a 20-year low. Moreover, CFSAN had received many new responsibilities resulting from the enactment of significant new legislation and international trade agreements. Clearly, there was a large gap between resource availability and reasonable work product expectations. Accordingly, one of my first announcements as center director was a commitment to establish an open and participatory priority-setting process. My goal was to identify a finite number of program priorities that we would commit to accomplishing effectively and in a timely way. I have frequently described these as the "boulders" we will move up and over the mountaintop. Five years later, that priority setting has become an annual process within CFSAN, and the process has proven to be an effective management approach to building predictability, transparency, and accountability into FDA's foods program.

In this article, I describe CFSAN's annual priority-setting process and how it matured over the past five years. I then analyze features of the process that made it successful and that may provide useful insights for other organizations seeking to use a similar model.

Priority-Setting Process

CFSAN's priority-setting process consisted of four steps: (1) soliciting stakeholder input, (2) developing program priorities based on input received, (3) monitoring progress toward accomplishing goals, and (4) reporting on accomplishments.

Additional information on each of these steps follows.

1. Soliciting Stakeholder Input. Throughout the priority-setting process, we asked the central question, "Where do we do the most good for consumers?" In June 1998, I chaired a public meeting to give our stakeholders an opportunity to answer this question. A meeting notice was published in the Federal Register (63 FR 30242; June 3, 1998), and interested persons were asked to register in advance to make oral presentations. To help focus comments, the Federal Register notice identified six questions that we asked stakeholders to address. As noted above, I was new on the job in 1998, and this was the first attempt to develop priorities for the foods program. Accordingly, I felt it was important to hold a public meeting and have direct, face-to-face communications with stakeholders. Since that time, however, as the process became more familiar, we have solicited stakeholder input in writing via publication of a notice in the Federal Register. After five years, CFSAN's priority-setting process has continued to focus on the same question, "Where do we do the most good for consumers?"

2. Developing Program Priorities. For the first three years that we established program priorities, I personally took charge of developing the annual workplan. After conducting a comprehensive review of all our programs with CFSAN's leadership team, I met individually with each of the major program directors to discuss their proposed program priorities and convened meetings with the leadership team to discuss commitments on crosscutting issues. While this level of involvement required a significant commitment of time on my part, I felt it was necessary to ensure that each workplan was a comprehensive yet balanced plan with reasonable work product expectations. Starting with the 2002 workplan, with the process by then well understood, I delegated responsibility for development of the annual workplan to a member of the leadership team and limited my personal involvement to review of the workplan as it was being finalized.

As noted above, the annual workplan is based on input received from stakeholders, as well as input generated internally. The workplan lays out the Center's work product expectations for the current fiscal year. Because CFSAN's broad mission and responsibilities encompass an enormous range of public health activities, this is not an exhaustive plan, but rather focuses on high visibility areas, new initiatives, or existing program areas where we would be enhancing our public health work. …

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