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No Omnibus, No Exception, No Increase

December 23, 2010


Congress adjourned sine die yesterday, December 22.  Since the Senate voted on health reform on Christmas Eve last year, this does feel like the Congress that wouldn’t go home. The new Congress, with newly elected members, will convene on January 5.

On Tuesday, December 21, the House and Senate approved an FY 11 Continuing Resolution that will fund the US government through March 4, 2011. Virtually the entire government is limited to spending no more than what they received in FY 10.

This is not good news for FDA, which was slated to receive at least the President’s request of +$158 million. This would have taken the agency from about $2.35 billion to $2.50 billion. At least until March 4, it will be required to spend at the lower FY 10 level.

Also, Congress did not adopt the language necessary for FDA to receive a $170 million transfer of funds from HHS accounts. As currently constituted, the monies can only be used for pandemic flu programs. The new language would have authorized the use of the money by FDA for all medical countermeasure development, not just pandemic flu.

The overall FDA appropriation and the failure to adopt the authorization language do not reflect Congressional intent to deny the agency resources. The President’s Request for FDA, along with the MCM authorizing language had appeared in the House-passed CR (December 8) that was not adopted by the Senate. Funding slightly above the President’s Request and the new authority were in the Senate Omnibus proposal (December 14) that was never taken up by the full Senate. These best reflect Congressional intent. Rather, the current situation is attributable to Congress’ decision to pass a minimal CR with FY 10 levels and virtually no exceptions.

As has been discussed in this column all Fall, there is an important distinction between funding bills that set priorities and those that apply a single funding standard to most programs. In the case of the final CR, we had the latter. Virtually every program was funded at the FY10 until March.

In FDA’s case, there were four instances since June when Congress proposed funding based on its priorities, rather than using a general standard. The bill approved in the House Appropriations subcommittee mark-up on July 1 provided FDA with about $55 million more than the President’s request. The bill approved in the Senate Appropriations Committee on July 15 would have given FDA its funding at the President’s Request level. Then, as described above, the House approved and the Senate considered bills that would have given FDA funding at the President’s Request level or above.

When the Congress considers its funding priorities, FDA is an exception to budget cuts and given more monies. It is only when every agency is given the same deal (FY 10 funding level) that FDA comes up short.  FDA’s funding situation is a reflection of across-the-board flat-funding, rather than the strength of FDA’s case for increased resources.

Through March 4, the FDA is left with the same funding and capabilities it had 4 months ago. However, the agency’s responsibilities keep getting larger every year because of growing volumes of work, increasingly complex science and the ever-expanding impact of globalization. This is compounded by decades of underfunding of the agency. The Alliance feels strongly that the FDA’s mission requires Congress to provide FDA with a significantly larger appropriation.

The Alliance has been preparing for a difficult environment in 2011, while hoping for better. In the new year, the Alliance will be simultaneously fighting for more money for FY 11 (the current year), while giving equal energies to the FY 12 process. We will keep reminding Congress that FDA needs to be an exception to budget cutting.  We will need the support of our members even more in the coming year.  

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


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