Yes. I had a great conversation with the acting director of compliance in the FDA, and I asked that exact question: “What do you do?” The FDA claims that in 2011 they alleviated roughly 190 to 195 shortages, so clearly they're doing something right.
What they said is that when they're alerted to a shortage—and they indicated that there's a high level of trust between manufacturers and the FDA—they essentially go through a four-step process.
Step one is to speak with domestic producers that have the capability to increase capacity for whatever drug is in short supply and to essentially request that they increase production.
Step two is to look at the drugs that are essentially in the approvals queue. They'll bring any drug that could be deemed an equivalent or an alternative to the drug in short supply to the top of the line; they'll expedite that particular drug.
Third, they'll talk to domestic producers that do not have the capacity to ramp up production and ask them if they could put that capacity in place.
Fourth, they'll look at foreign suppliers and issue the proper importation permits for foreign supply, again, of whatever drug.
They've indicated that as a result of this very proactive approach that they take, they've been able to alleviate roughly 190 shortages in 2011.