A former aide to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has become the new head of the Food and Drug Administration. And, thanks to Hatch, he was able to skip the normally required formal Senate confirmation hearings.

Dr. David Kessler, who was an aide to Hatch in 1981 and 1982, was confirmed by the Senate as FDA commissioner amid an avalanche of legislation over the weekend as Congress rushed to adjourn.He was nominated by President Bush on Oct. 18 and had not gone through formal confirmation hearings. But he had met personally with many members of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee and responded in writing to their questions.

Hatch, who is the ranking Republican on that committee, told the Senate that he and Committee Chairman Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., agreed it would be unwise to hold up the nomination "until next February or March" waiting for Congress to reconvene and schedule hearings.

Kessler is both a doctor and a lawyer. He received his medical degree from Harvard and his law degree from the University of Chicago.

Because of that unique background, Hatch chose him as a physician adviser about health law when Hatch was chairman of the Labor and Human Resources Committee. Kessler most recently has been the medical director at Einstein Medical Center in New York City and an instructor at Columbia Law School.

"The FDA has faced many crises during the past decade. They include the tampering with over-the-counter products, tainting of the food supply and fraudulent generic drug applications," Hatch said. "The FDA needs a new burst of energy, leadership and revitalization. Dr. Kessler will bring to the agency these qualities."

Kessler's new job should also be made somewhat easier by an FDA revitalization bill that Hatch just persuaded Congress to enact. It will computerize many operations that have long been handled manually and will help centralize FDA operations that have been scattered among 23 buildings in seven locations.

Hatch has also helped other Utahns or former aides achieve similarly lofty positions in the Department of Health and Human Services. His former aide Antonia Novello is U.S. surgeon general, and former Utah Health Department Director James Mason holds the No. 2 position in the department as assistant secretary.