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Some in Congress Question FDA’s Stewardship of Its Funding

April 17, 2015

With Congress working on a Congressional Budget Resolution, this is the time of year when we talk a lot (here and here) about the “macro-budget.” Once the appropriations process gets underway, most of our focus will be on the “micro-budget.”

The distinction:

The macro-budget is the entirety of Federal spending (about $4 trillion), of which just over $1 trillion is spent on discretionary programs (defense, social programs, FDA, etc.). In contrast, the micro-budget is all about FDA, its $2.6 billion appropriation and its priorities, accomplishments, needs.

This week, we will start looking more intensively at the micro budget. We know the President’s FY 16 budget request for FDA includes a $147 million increase over the FY 15 base of $2.599 billion. Overall, discretionary funds will be tight this year and many programs will be disappointed. But we have to recognize that one prominent appropriator has already said quite specifically that FDA’s requested increase will be “hard to swallow.” This makes real the distinction: funding will be tight on a macro level, but how much the FDA actually receives is decided by micro factors.

What are those factors? One is whether Congress perceives that FDA’s mission and responsibilities are growing, shrinking or staying about the same. Another is whether FDA, and particularly the areas for additional funding, are deemed to be a higher priority than requests from other agencies. Critically: were last year’s (modest) new funds used effectively?

Intangible qualities are often more important than mission and priority. Does Congress perceive FDA as a good steward of the funding it has received? Is the agency perceived as accountable for the funds it receives? Is it transparent in how funds are used?

Some might argue that stewardship, accountability, and transparency are hard-to-judge qualities. However, Congress has the responsibility for every agency’s micro-budget and it has no choice but to make judgments about priorities and effective/efficient use of funds.

Compared to when the Alliance was founded nearly a decade ago, FDA is more accountable and transparent that it was. However, judging by recent Congressional statements, we know that some in Congress believe that progress is not yet enough and, as a result, there are questions about FDA’s stewardship of the funds it receives.

Note: This week’s Analysis and Commentary was written by Steven Grossman, the deputy executive director of the Alliance for a Stronger FDA.

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