AuthorMangu-Ward, Katherine

LAST YEAR, HASHTAG activists were ready to #AbolishICE, in part over the deaths of about 20 immigrants in custody in 2020. Protesters called on the government to "defund the police" over more than 1,000 killings by law enforcement during the same period. Those deaths are tragic, and many could have been prevented with better policy. But they pale in comparison to the blood on the hands of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over the last 12 months.

Faced with the challenge of COVID-19, the FDA screwed up on nearly every level. When the agency did do something right, it was almost always by making exceptions to its normal policies and procedures.

In this month's cover story (page 18), Ronald Bailey describes some specific targeted changes at the FDA and other bureaucracies that could make a huge difference, as well as some crucial moments when the FDA managed--with great effort--to get out of its own way. This incremental approach to reform is both admirable and realistic. To do as Bailey suggests could help ensure that COVID-19 is our last true pandemic.

But sometimes enough is enough. There was a time when Republicans used to offer up lists of government agencies or cabinet departments they would abolish as part of the presidential primary process--say, the Department of Education or the Federal Reserve. The winner never did abolish anything, of course. But after the year we've just been through, nothing should be clearer than the need to eliminate an enormous bureaucracy whose documented failures resulted in the preventable deaths of tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of people.

The FDA screwed up in prohibiting researchers from testing affected populations in the early days of 2020, when the virus might have been better contained upon arrival in the United States. It screwed up in refusing to lift requirements for mask manufacturers and by declining to allow good substitutes for masks in short supply. It screwed up by collaborating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to protect a monopoly on testing tools that ended in a disastrous shortage. FDA staffers tasked with approving both treatments and vaccines screwed up by delaying meetings and taking days off as Americans were dying in unprecedented numbers of a disease for which the agency had potential solutions. At press time, the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was widely available in many other nations, remained unapproved in the U.S., for reasons that...

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