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“When the Going Gets Tough, …”

May 29, 2010

ADVOCACY

This past week the Alliance met with the staff of Rosa DeLauro, Chairwoman of the House Agriculture-FDA Appropriations Subcommittee.

Upcoming Meetings

June 9: Office of Management and Budget and Senate Agriculture Committee. On June 9th the Alliance is scheduled to meet with officials at the Office of Management and Budget and also with the staff of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

ANALYSIS AND COMMENTARY

Domestic, discretionary spending (transportation, NIH, NASA, food stamps, education, etc.) is going to grow slowly, if at all, over the next few fiscal years. As a result, our case for increased funding for FDA relies heavily on exceptionalism.

We need to keep saying: in good times or bad times, Americans rely so heavily on FDA’s competency that the agency needs to be an exception to the severe belt-tightening that is being applied to federal spending. Fortunately, the Obama Administration agrees with us. The President’s FY 11 budget request calls for a 6% increase in funding for the agency. We are not aware of any federal agencies in the Agriculture and Labor/HHS appropriations space that were treated this well, although there may be a handful.

We have to be grateful for this, and the Alliance has expressed appreciation for the Administration’s request. After all, they are seeing us as an exception to the vast majority of agencies that will be cut or see increases smaller than 6%.

This leaves us with a dilemma. We cannot accept that 6% is enough … regardless of the larger budgetary environment. The agency is finally making some progress after years of neglect, but is still massively underfunded relative to its responsibilities. Further, its job becomes harder each year (globalization, scientific complexity, etc.) and it keeps receiving new assignments (follow-on biologics, REMS, risk-based inspections, biosecurity, etc.). The probability of new food safety legislation is high, which will further stress the agency’s limited resources next year.

As budgetary pressures increase further, the case for FDA exceptionalism is going to be harder to make. And the share allocated to an acknowledged “exception” may seem quite paltry.

This is because we aspire to be an exception within a segment of the federal budget being asked to deliver more than its share of cuts. The New York Times hit hard on this point earlier this week in an editorial entitled: “Waste, Fraud and the Truth.” While aimed at the President’s request for expedited budget-cutting procedures, the editorial draws a larger point: “… the wrong-headed notion that the deficit is caused by out-of-control discretionary spending. … If the public is encouraged to believe that discretionary spending is the main problem — and cutting it the real answer — there will never be adequate political support for the tough decisions ahead [on entitlements and taxes].”

I have always liked the notion that “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” The “going” is getting tougher for FDA and is likely to get worse. It is up to us to be “the tough” who rise to the occasion and find the voice and persuasiveness to keep advocating for the exceptional funding needs of the FDA.

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

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