WHITE OAK, MD – JULY 20: A sign for the Food And Drug Administration is seen outside of the headquarters on July 20, 2020 in White Oak, Maryland. (Photo by Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)
(CNN)There has been a second departure within the communications team at the Food and Drug Administration in less than a week, CNN has learned, leaving the office with fewer press officials as their agency is in the national spotlight.
John “Wolf” Wagner had been in his role at the FDA for only two months but has now moved to the office of the Health and Human Services assistant secretary for preparedness and response, an official confirmed. Wagner is a political appointee who was installed at the FDA by the White House this summer after recently serving as the principal deputy assistant secretary at Veterans Affairs.”After consulting with HHS leadership and White House personnel, we asked John Wagner to step in to support communications in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response,” Michael Caputo, a Health and Human Services spokesman, told CNN in a statement. “ASPR has a critical role in the COVID–19 response, including OWS (Operation Warp Speed) activities, as well as hurricane preparedness and response. Mr. Wagner’s career military background will prove invaluable to these efforts.”
Wagner’s departure from the FDA follows the removal of another political appointee at the office, Emily Miller, after she clashed with career officials at the agency. It had only been seven days since FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn had announced Miller’s arrival as chief spokesperson in an internal memo when he abruptly removed her from that role. Because she is a political appointee installed at the agency by the White House personnel office, she remains at the FDA, though her new title has not yet been determined. Read MoreWagner was not removed by Hahn like Miller was, an official said.
Miller had been involved in prepping the commissioner for the announcement on granting an emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma. Hahn later apologized for the way he had framed the announcement after medical experts said he had overstated the lifesaving benefits of the treatment. That apology drew the ire of White House officials, who said his backtracking was not cleared by them, and President Donald Trump. Because of the two recent departures, the communications team at the FDA has been significantly reduced. It’s not clear when or if the White House will put new political appointees in the office. Heidi Rebello remains the acting associate commissioner for external affairs and Michael Felberbaum is acting assistant commissioner for media affairs, according to an FDA spokesperson.