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A Well-Funded FDA: Only if Congress Stands Behind its Own Words


This week, FDA Matters raises the delicate question: can Congress be counted to act upon its own words supporting the FDA? This is desperately important as Congress makes decisions on FDA’s FY 13 funding and possible sequestration.

 Over the last few weeks, the Senate and the House have passed the FDA user fee reauthorization legislation by large bipartisan majorities with almost no opposition. Both bodies have extolled the importance of the FDA. The urgency of it funding needs have been fully acknowledged. The incredible breadth of support for the agency has been counted and documented. But will Congress provide the funding to back this up?

The single most important determinant of FDA’s success is whether it has the money to carry out its responsibilities. Yet, this is a very tough environment for any agency to receive funding increases.

So, it was particularly encouraging that the FDA’s cause became linked to J-O-B-S during House passage of the user fee legislation. The House Energy and Commerce Committee fact sheet on the legislation begins:

The United States has led the global medical device and biopharmaceutical industries for decades.  This leadership has made the U.S. the medical innovation capital of the world, bringing hundreds of thousands of high-paying jobs to our country and life-saving devices and drugs to our nation’s patients.  U.S. medical device-related employment totals over 2 million jobs, and these are good, rewarding jobs as employees in the device industry earn an average of $60,000 per year.  The U.S. biopharmaceutical industry is responsible for over 4 million U.S. jobs. 

The media has noted that the user fee legislation assures FDA of nearly $6.5 billion in industry monies over the next 5 years. This is indeed a lot of money. FDA will need every dollar of it to meet the commitments it has made in writing to use these monies on specific activities and on achieving specific performance benchmarks.  

User fees, then, are basically set for the next five years. However, they only supplement the funding FDA needs to carry out its responsibilities. FDA CANNOT LIVE BY USER FEES ALONE.  

To conduct the bulk of its functions, FDA received a budget authority (BA) appropriation of about $2.5 billion in FY 12. This is taxpayer, not industry, monies. Assuming a very modest 6 % annual increase in costs and responsibilities each year, FDA will need about $150 million more to meet its responsibility in FY 13. Additional 6% increases would be needed annually in succeeding years.

Using the 6% annual growth and projected out to five-years–as has been done for the user fee monies–FDA will need a total of $15 billion in non-user fee, BA appropriations from FY 13 to FY 17.  This is in addition to the industry contribution of $6.5 billion over the same 5-year period.

Prospects for 6% increases, even in the first year (FY 13), do not look good. The Senate is recommending only a 0.5% increase for FY 13 (about +$25 million of the needed 6% increase of $150 million). The House appropriations subcommittee is marking the bill up later this week. There is no reason to be optimistic since the House is operating under a total budget ceiling that is much lower than the Senate.

Even worse, the BA appropriations portion of the FDA budget faces a potential January 2013 sequester (automatic across-the-board reduction in most federal discretionary spending) of about 8% of BA funds ($200 million).

If the sequester occurs, FDA would be provided only $2.3 billion in FY 13, taking the agency below the funding level it had in FY 10. Even if 6% increases were to start in FY 14 after an FY 13 sequester, FDA would receive only $13 billion in BA funding from FY 13-17. That is about a $2 billion gap in BA funding over 5 years, solely as a result of the possible FY 13 sequestration. 

The modest $15 billion, 5-year estimate for BA appropriations (based on 6% annual increases) does not account for the costs of the Food Safety Modernization Act.  Nor does it account for the increased non-user fee responsibilities Congress has incorporated in the user fee reauthorization legislation (e.g. provisions to deal with drug shortages). Further, the FDA’s job becomes larger and more difficult each year (globalization, more complex science) so that the agency budget should increase by more than 6% each year.  

This brings us back to the delicate question we began with: will the Senate and House stand behind their own words about the importance of FDA and its role in job-creation and the economy?  If so, Congress needs to appropriate more money for FDA in FY 13 and each of the succeeding four years and it must exempt FDA from any sequestration.  


For purposes of disclosure: I am one of the founders and serve as Deputy Executive Director of the Alliance for a Stronger FDA, www.strengthenfda.org. It is the only multi-stakeholder (consumers, patients, health professionals, industry) that advocates for increased FDA funding. Our strength is in the breadth and number of our member, so I urge you to contact me for more information about belonging. Contact me at sgrossman@strengthenfda.org.


Note that my duties with the Alliance are in addition to, and apart from, the work of my policy and regulatory consulting firm, HPS Group, LLC, which is the publisher of FDA Matters.  The views expressed in FDA Matters are my own, and those of HPS Group, and are not the views or positions of the Alliance.

One Response to “A Well-Funded FDA: Only if Congress Stands Behind its Own Words”

  1. Mark McCarty says:

    Hi Steve,
    I think just about everyone sympathizes, but I maintain that this will not resolve unless voters get hacked off about it. If it’s any consolation, all the flap about patent fees collected by PTO resulted in something approximating an escrow account by the end of the sausage-making that gave us the America Invents Act. It’only $50 million a year (Everett Dirksen, where are you?), but in times like these, that’s a lot of money even in Washington.

    I think we’re going to be talking about FDA appropriations for a long, long time. Here’s to the FY 2014 budget/appropriations process!

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