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The Need for Clarity on User Fees

March 19, 2010

ADVOCACY

Office of Domestic Policy Council Meeting.  Next week the Alliance is meeting with the White House Office of Domestic Policy Council.

Alliance Written Testimony for House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies.   Please click here for the written testimony that the Alliance submitted to the Subcommittee regarding FY 11 appropriations.

ANALYSIS AND COMMENTARY

From the beginning, the purpose of the Alliance has been to advocate for increased appropriations for FDA. Depending on context, we might say appropriated funding, budget authority appropriations, or support from public funds. Everyone knew we meant the support for the agency that came from general revenue and not from user fees.

And so the Alliance has led the charge through three fiscal years in which the FDA’s appropriated funding has increased by $776 million. This is more than a 50% cumulative increase in three years. We also helped get a $150 million one-time supplement for the agency. For perspective, in the prior four  fiscal years, the agency had grown by only $180 million, about a 13% cumulative change with no supplemental.

Congressional staff and media often ask about user fees. We have told them that our focus is appropriated funding … monies that can be used to strengthen the agency and not just pay for specific activities. We acknowledged that user fees are necessary, but returned to our raison d’etre: increased public funding of the agency.

In our Hill visits so far this year and our interactions with media, we have spent more and more time explaining why the President’s claim of a 23% increase for FDA is inflated by proposed user fees that might never become law and by the doubling of the amount of user fees from tobacco companies. Budget authority appropriations are only slated for a 6% increase. That was the number to focus on … and the basis of our concern that more funding is needed. I am sure that this was the message delivered in every Hill meeting on Lobby Day last week.

Alliance members may have said more about user fees, hopefully being clear that it was their opinion and not the Alliance’s. Certainly, we have not provided our lobbying teams with a formal position or message points on the relationship between public funding and user fees. To do so could be tricky. We have 180 members devoted to strengthening the agency through increased appropriated funding. We cannot take a position on user fees that risks our Alliance and its cause.

What can we all agree upon? Ladd and I have chatted and our starting point is the need for a balance between user fees and appropriated funding. It might be articulated as follows:

  • FDA is a public health agency. Its mission is to serve the American public.
  • The bulk of FDA funding should come from appropriated funding (general revenue).
  • User fees should not replace appropriated dollars or become a dominant funding source for FDA or specific programs within FDA (except tobacco).

This topic will be on the agenda for discussion at the Board of Directors meeting in mid-April. In the interim, Ladd and I welcome your thoughts and will compile them as part of our presentation to the Board. As you think about the Alliance’s position, please remember that the goal is a statement that all members can agree upon and that does not make us a user fee coalition. We are — and always should be — about appropriated funding. We just want a comfortable and consistent answer to provide when we are asked: what about user fees?

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

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