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Getting a Firm Grasp on the Budget Preview

April 9, 2021

When the full President’s budget request comes out (early February most years; sometime in May in 2017 and 2021), there is always a scramble to get accurate information out quickly. After years of doing this, the Alliance has become good at it–largely by knowing to always look first for the All-Purpose Table and the Summary of Changes and compare them to the Budget Authority (BA) tables. In contrast, a budget “preview” will have a small fraction of the amount of information needed to understand the administration’s position on FDA. There might only be two or three paragraphs, possibly with a chart. Using 2017 as a benchmark, it took three Friday Updates before we had answered all the questions raised by the “skinny” budget. Most of the answers fell under the category of “not enough information.” That situation persisted for the entirety of the eight weeks until the full budget request was released.

For some agencies, the “preview” will provide enough details that a useful picture can be drawn. That might be the case for NIH but is unlikely to be so for FDA. With so many vastly different responsibilities and multiple funding sources, any short “preview” of FDA is likely to blur distinctions that we, as stakeholders, know are all-important.

The Alliance will be providing authoritative analysis later today or tomorrow in a supplement to this week’s Friday Update. It will be limited by how much detail is provided int today’s budget preview.

Meanwhile, based on “headline” coverage of FDA’s budget in past years, there are a number of ways that today’s budget “preview” might limit sufficient details, and not be an accurate picture of the FDA request. For example, the proposed FDA total request might include:

  • Proposed user fees counted as actual funding, even though they are unlikely to become law or become dollars that the agency can spend
  • Annual increases built into the user fee agreements, treated as new dollars proposed by the President
  • Adding BA appropriations and user fees together as if the monies are interchangeable
  • Offsets that are unclear, such as substituting non-existent user fee income to cover cuts in existing BA funding

Also, any total request will likely include more than $700 million of tobacco user fees that are not available for FDA’s traditional responsibilities for safe foods and safe and effective medical products.

One year, OMB claimed a 24% increase for FDA in the full budget request, when the real proposed increase to existing BA programs was only about 8%. That was an increase for which we were grateful, but nowhere near what was being claimed.

As soon as we have a firm grasp on what the President is proposing — probably later today or tomorrow — we will provide the Alliance membership and media an analysis that you can rely upon.

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

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