Empty chairs at the top of the FDA and NIH are disturbing for the biotech industry and the biomedical research community, threatening to limit the scope of reforms in the upcoming negotiations over renewal of user fee authority and sapping morale at NIH. But filling the positions isn't a high priority in the White House, which for political reasons is content to let both institutions run on autopilot.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) started pushing the Bush team to act quickly to appoint an FDA chief during the transition and intensified its requests when Clinton's commissioner, Jane Henney, was punted out of her office in the first minutes of the new administration.