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Wise Budgeting: “A Deadly Serious Challenge for Policymakers”

November 15, 2013

I was disappointed this week by an article in which a member of the FDA stakeholder community (but not a member of the Alliance), asserted that FDA shouldn’t complain about having to implement new laws with insufficient funds, since FDA asked for most of these new responsibilities. This line of thinking disregards the constantly evolving environment that FDA regulates. This line of thinking fails to take into account the globalization of FDA products, the increasing complexity of the science involved in medical products and food safety, and emerging public health challenges.

At some point you have to ask: “Is the federal government’s discretionary spending driven by arbitrary numbers or by what it costs to deliver what the American public needs?”  Endless debate about spending caps and how to reach agreement … becomes detached from the purpose of federal spending: to serve the needs of the American people, especially goods and service that only a national government can provide. We are at risk that the budget battles have become a game played by accountants and political ideologues instead of a deadly serious challenge for policymakers.

The consequences of spending caps and sequestration is catalogued in great detail in the new NDD United report entitled Faces of Austerity: How Budget Cuts Have Made Us Sicker, Poorer, and Less Secure. Most non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending programs serve vital needs — and when funding is cut back, there are serious consequences. Further, in the aggregate, the money that can be saved from discretionary spending cuts is a pittance compared to the cost and saving potential in mandatory spending and tax loopholes.

This is not to suggest that priority-setting isn’t needed. Some trims can surely be made in non-defense discretionary spending. However, FDA is not the culprit.

The Alliance asks for more money for FDA to undertake activities that are critical to the public. Nothing more, nothing less. It is irrelevant that FDA was an instrument for identifying needs and proposing new legislation and responsibilities.

It is wrong for the availability of funds for FDA to be determined based on arbitrary numbers, rather than an evaluation of what is needed. And the sums involved in strengthening FDA is such a small amount that there can be no justification for budgetary retreat.  As last week’s column described, authorizers and appropriators in the House and Senate show every indication of agreeing with us.

Note: This analysis and commentary is written by Steven Grossman, the Deputy Executive Director of the Alliance for a Stronger FDA.

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