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No Guarantees for a Bright Future

July 19, 2019

Many years ago, I wrote an article entitled “A Good Law is Always at Risk.” Its message: widespread support and lots of praise today … does not guarantee a bright future. Even when things are going well, it is unwise to assume that things will always be going well.

Similarly, the FDA stakeholder community needs to appreciate that: “even an acclaimed federal agency with recent budget increases … is always at risk.” When the Alliance was started — 13 years ago — FDA was at risk on a daily basis and no one needed to deliver that message. The risk was there every day for all to see.

Fast forward to today, the Ag/FDA appropriations committees see a strong FDA as their special responsibility. The agency has received substantial new resources, even as its mission has expanded multiple times. Further, the FDA enjoys more widespread support — House, Senate, Republican, Democrat, Liberal, Conservative — than at any time I can remember.

And yet, the FDA is still very much at risk. This was partly addressed in last week’s Analysis and Commentary in the discussion of the difference between macro and micro budgetary considerations. We observed that:

The threshold items stalling current negotiations are all macro problems, involving the broad sweep of government spending. Whatever House and Senate (and White House) leadership work out, it will not be based on the needs and opportunities at FDA. Nonetheless, micro budgetary issues — how does Congress perceive FDA’s mission and the value of increased funding — are still very much in play.

When there is a budget deal (macro resolved) and enough money for Ag/FDA appropriators to give FDA a nice increase (micro resolved), it will be tempting — yet wrong — to see the need for FDA advocacy as diminished. Closing the books favorably on FY 20 will not diminish the micro budgetary challenge to the agency thereafter. A Congress that understands and appreciates FDA is critical to the agency’s future. However, Members change, staff leave, memories get short when the money gets short and so on. When Congress asks FDA, “What have you done for us lately,” it is best if the agency and the Alliance have some really good answers.

Hence, the insight (with its embedded threat): “Even an acclaimed federal agency with recent budget increases … is always at risk.” The Alliance has a critical role in lessening that threat and assuring that the FDA is seen as performing essential government services that need to be funded regardless of larger macro budgetary pressures.

Editorial note: The Analysis and Commentary section is written by Steven Grossman, Deputy Executive Director of the Alliance for a Stronger FDA.

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