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WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration needs to hire scores of in-demand scientists, and that difficult task could become even harder if the agency gives in to pressure from either Republicans or the Biden administration to return federal workers to the office.

There are more than 2,000 vacancies at the FDA right now — a number in keeping with past years, but one that underscores the agency’s constant difficulties hiring and keeping enough scientists to meet its vast responsibilities with respect to food and medical reviews. The FDA already got Congress to give it the power to pay bigger annual salaries for scientists to help it compete for talented officials, but even its highest annual offerings fall far short of what experienced staff could make in the private sector.


Letting people work from home has been a game-changer for the agency — and losing it could make filling those vacancies much harder. In a 2021 survey of staff in the FDA’s centers that review new medicines, more than a quarter said they’d consider leaving their jobs if they were allowed to work from home more often elsewhere. Human resources staff at the agency listed it as one of the top reasons turnover might soon increase, too, in the same poll.

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