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Congressional Change and the FY 12 Appropriation

September 7, 2010

ADVOCACY

The Alliance was honored to have several members attend the dedication of the new FDA-TRACK room at FDA’s headquarters last Tuesday.  FDA-TRACK is an important effort to increase transparency and accountability at the FDA.  Both Commissioner Hamburg and Deputy Commissioner Sharfstein presented at the dedication.  The FDA-TRACK room at FDA provides a physical manifestation of this important initiative.  Every quarter and at other times throughout the quarter, senior managers come to the room to report to the Commissioner or Deputy Commissioner the status of their program measures.  Now all 190 organizational units at the FDA have at least one program measure; and there are almost 900 program measures on the website.  If you have not been on the FDA-TRACK site recently, we recommend you visit it.  It is now the second most visited set of pages on the FDA’s web site.

ANALYSIS AND COMMENTARY

FY 11 appropriations for FDA are still to be decided, hopefully in September. Over the last several months, we have been working hard to boost FDA’s chances of getting a substantial increase in the President’s FY 12 budget request. It is useful to step back at this point and look at how the larger appropriations picture might affect FDA. I see three aspects:

Mega-budget considerations. As has been discussed in prior Friday Updates, the “domestic discretionary” programs are under extraordinary pressure. While only 17% of the US budget is in this category … both the Administration and the Congress often act like cutting back on these programs will contribute in some meaningful way to deficit reduction.

Some savings are certainly possible, but the amount is piddling unless the US government is prepared to walk away from its commitment to education funding, NIH, supplemental nutrition and feeding programs, alternative energy programs, Amtrak, NASA and so on. The rhetoric on deficit reduction in DC and on the campaign trail does not match up with the realities that most of these programs have good public support or are essential to the well-being and functioning of our nation.

FDA is too small to be a source of significant deficit reduction. Nonetheless, if domestic discretionary programs remain at risk for major cuts, this will impact FDA’s ability to justify necessary increases in its funding. At least twice in recent years, most of the domestic discretionary budget was flat-funded and FDA was, nonetheless, handled separately and given increases.  The more pressure on domestic discretionary programs, the less likely there will be such exceptions.

Executive Branch priorities. Without question the President’s budget request is the starting point for all consideration of funding levels. Even in the toughest times, the President finds money for the issues and programs that reflect his priorities. This becomes immediately evident if you get a coveted mention in the President’s State of the Union speech. Even without that, when the budget numbers come out there will be some programs with 30% increases and some cut in half.

This Administration recognizes the value of FDA and Dr. Hamburg has been a strong advocate for the agency. Nonetheless, we are not in the elite group that are certain to be well-treated in the FY 12 budget.  That is the goal of the Alliance’s work with the Executive Branch on the FY 12 budget request.

Upcoming changes in the membership of the Appropriations Committees. It is probably a coincidence, but all three of the senators who lost in the primaries were Appropriations Committee members: Spector, Bennett and Murkowski. Other members on the Senate side are not returning next year (Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire) and at least two are in tight races (Patty Murray of Washington and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana).

On the House side, Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey of Wisconsin has announced his retirement. He is also chair of the Labor-HHS Appropriations subcommittee. That alone is enough to set off a chain reaction among senior members over committee assignments and chairmanships. There are likely to be a lot more changes based on election results. In addition, it seems probable that more of the Committee’s membership (Democrats and Republicans) are likely to be oriented toward fiscal restraint and deficit reduction.

In sum, there is a lot that contributes to FDA’s funding that has little to do with FDA. The Alliance vision of strengthening FDA requires us to take all these factors into account.

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

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