Rescuing the FDA
An obscure, bureaucratic report last November concluded that the Food and Drug Administration is on the brink of collapse. The findings improbably led to congressional hearings, additional audit and then a New York Times editorial Sunday that, “The near unanimity about the agency’s weaknesses — among Congressional Democrats and Republicans, industry and consumer groups, and authoritative independent analysts — is striking.” So now House Democrats are saying that the report’s authors, a three-member advisory panel of the F.D.A. Science Board’s Subcommittee on Science and Technology, and not George Bush should determine the agency’s budget.
Four prominent legislators- John Dingell, Mich. chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee Henry A. Waxman, Calif., chair of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Bart Stupak, Mich., energy’s investigations subcommittee chair, and Frank Pallone Jr., energy’s health subcommittee chair- wrote a letter today requesting the advisory panel submit their own fiscal-year 2009 budget. The budget should “provide the resources needed to allow the agency to avert the kind of catastrophe described in the Science Board’s report.” The President’s budget does include a 5.7 percent funding increase for the FDA, which the letter complains, “barely covers the cost of inflation.”
So what is this looming catastrophe? The report concluded that, “F.D.A.’s inability to keep up with scientific advances means that American lives are at risks.” The President and Congress have exponentially increased the agency’s responsibilities in approving drugs and investigating contaminants without providing the money and scientists to get the work done. In fact, the F.D.A. computer system is so unreliable that the agency produces handwritten reports on possible dangerous products.
Democratic charges of executive branch incompetence are not unique. What is unique is that leading Democrats are handing government agency advisory panelists the chance of their careers to defy the White House.