While alarms were being sounded on Capitol Hill about the
dire state of the FDA after a recent Science Board report said American lives
are at risk, and a Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation
confirmed the agency's incapacity to intercept contaminated medical imports,
the Bush administration in February proposed a 5.7% budget increase. Last year,
the FDA got an 11% increase.
The new budget request, sure to be dismembered in the
Congress, was immediately assailed by critics, including highly regarded former
FDA associate commissioner for policy William Hubbard. Speaking for the
Alliance for a Stronger FDA, he said: “The amount in the administration's
proposed budget is not only inadequate, it is barely half of what FDA needs
just to keep pace with inflation.”
The unreality straddling the political divide on Super
Tuesday Eve had commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach, a Bush family friend,
loyally declaring that the budget request “enables us to continue development
of the staff and programs necessary to safeguard the food we eat and improve
the safety and development of drugs, vaccines, devices, and other medical
products.” Characteristically, the agency offered no details to substantiate
this Alice in Wonderland assessment.
Presumably motivated by the Science Board and GAO findings,
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) had earlier written the
GAO seeking a top-to-bottom resource review of the FDA, including an
examination of its thinning staff and other resources necessary for it to
oversee foods, drugs, biologics and devices.
The FDA is in crisis. But, given the highly charged
political climate through November and this commissioner's partisanship, expect
the agency's woes to deepen, along with the public's unhappiness with it.
Dickinson is editor of Dickinson's FDA Webview (fdaweb.com)