Strengthening the FDA; to Reform, End Political Interference

Article excerpt


As the Food and Drug Administration's Science Advisory Board, and recently this very newspaper, have highlighted, the "FDA's inability to keep up with scientific advances means that American lives are at risk." They are right: I have been working in Congress to modernize the agency and protect public health for years. But in its attempt to explain those threats, The Washington Times misdiagnoses the problem and misses the point.

There is no doubt the FDA needs more resources. And that is why, even as this administration continues to cut back, I have worked to provide the FDA with real support to do its job. This year, President Bush's budget claims to provide a $54 million increase for the FDA. However, when a significant amount of those additional dollars will go simply to maintain existing activities at the agency, this so-called increase is even lower than it appears. Despite widespread recognition that the FDA is insufficiently funded, the administration's budget continues to starve the agency. And I will continue to push back: Since 2006, despite overall spending limitations imposed by the administration, Congress has increased the FDA's budget by more than $227 million or 15 percent.

But there also needs to be a commitment from management to perform its duties. Too often the FDA comes to Congress to ask for more flexibility in spending its funds. But mountains of evidence show the FDA is failing to meet even its most basic responsibilities: keeping track of clinical trials, following up on critical investigations, and preventing major conflicts of interest. The Washington Times headline asked Congress simply to "Get out of the FDA's way" (Feb. 7). But when left to chart its own path, the FDA has not always found its way to serve the public's best interest.

A 2006 survey conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, showed that FDA scientists overwhelmingly complained about interference from top-level FDA appointees on behalf of corporate and political interests. The FDA needs to honor its original mission. That begins by respecting independent science and pushing back against outside pressure. We can no longer accept federal agencies tasked to protect the public health that seem only interested in protecting business from embarrassment or cost. Instead, we need a commitment from the agency explaining how it intends to use its funds and meet its goals in a way that matches our national priorities. …