Commentary You get what you pay for Second of two parts

Like washing a car on a sunny day, we've found there are a few sure-fire ways to liven up a slow news week. One is to send the editor or publisher out of town. Sending one creates a 50 percent probability that a consequential news story will erupt; sending both increases the odds to 100 percent.

Likewise, making a promise to continue a story into a second week almost assures that events will pass the first story by, leaving us holding the bag with a slightly stale Part 2. So we weren't surprised last week when the Clinton administration jumped out in front of the GOP in promising FDA reforms (see BioCentury Extra, March 17), threatening to leave in limbo this week's promised Commentary on FDA decision making.

As might be expected, the White House move reflected more the politics of the moment than the substance of constructive change. This was reflected especially in the attempt to create anticipation for a substantive program that would be announced in the future, presumably once the would-be GOP reformers lay some cards on the table.

Of course, when the likes of IBM or Microsoft have used announcements to "overhang the market," the trust-busters cry foul. But it's par for the course in politics. And to be fair, the GOP is looking more like overhang and less like substance with each passing day of budget cutting, so everyone has a right to be dubious about the prospects for change at the FDA.

Easier said than done

The point is that the politics of reform ultimately has little to do with improved performance of the agency. Which leads us back to last week's Commentary, which warned that creating better decisions at the agency would be easier said than done.