Lawmakers Grill F.D.A. Chief on Baby Formula Oversight Amid Shortages

House lawmakers hammered Dr. Robert Califf, the head of the Food and Drug Administration, during a budget hearing on Thursday over the agency’s handling of the infant formula shortage exasperating families across the nation.

His appearance before a House subcommittee occurred just a day after President Biden invoked the Defense Production Act and authorized the use of planes to ferry baby formula from overseas to boost supply. The agency and the White House have raced in recent days to respond to the public outcry over bare grocery store shelves and concerns that desperate parents were rationing their stock or resorting to possibly risky DIY mixtures to feed their infants.

The latest shortage stems from the shutdown in February of Abbott Laboratories’ plant in Sturgis, Mich., where the F.D.A. had discovered evidence of a potentially deadly bacteria called cronobacter sakazakii. The company launched a major recall that has resulted in gaping holes in the supply chain. Federal agencies have been investigating several cases of illness in babies beginning last fall, including two deaths, although no definitive link to the formula has been established.

Dr. Califf acknowledged to lawmakers that the agency was conducting an internal review to see if any errors were made. Pressed by lawmakers for a timetable to provide relief for families, Dr. Califf listed some efforts underway — including relaxed guidelines for imports and ramped up domestic manufacturing — and said increased supplies to stores would be noticeable in days. He reiterated that the Abbott plant should reopen within two weeks, but said store shelves would not return to normal for weeks.