FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach is no political naïf. He knows that new funding is a double-edged sword. People--a.k.a. Congress--expect something for their money. In other words, more resources, more responsibility to deliver. If your agency isn't ready to turn the moola into results PDQ, then perhaps a big wad of extra cash will only be counterproductive. Instead of showing up at Congressional hearings, armed with a scarcity of resources as a handy reason for poor performance, you have to show up ready to explain why your bungling made a mockery of the taxpayers' generosity.
Perhaps that's why it took so long for von Eschenbach to say, first, that his agency needed more funding at all, and second, just how much might suffice. Late last year, a panel of outside advisers said the FDA didn't have enough money or staff--not to mention scientific expertise, but that's an extension of the staffing problem--to protect Americans from bad food and drugs. By March, von Eschenbach was admitting to the problem, saying the agency could fail to protect the citizenry. Still, funding offers were received coolly. Senators leading the Appropriations subcommittee practically opened their wallets during a hearing back in April, but von Eschenbach demurred, saying he needed to get some scenarios together.
Observers speculated that it was his loyalty to the Bush Administration, which offered only a 3 percent funding increase in its budget, that inspired von Eschenbach's utterly un-greedy behavior. But his loyalty either gave out, or that wasn't the reason for his reticence in the first place, because in May the commissioner named a figure: $275 million. Meanwhile, the agency finagled clearance to hire hundreds of people without the usual bureaucratic red tape and announced a series of job fairs to fill already vacant slots and newly added positions. Then the administration itself came through June 10, asking Congress to give the FDA an extra $275 million.
So if Congress makes good on its open-wallet offers, von Eschenbach and company will soon be able to tap those millions for even more new employees, long overdue technology, new foreign offices, stepped-up import inspections, and more. They'll also be on the hook to demonstrate that the employees, technology, inspections, et al, are making the U.S. safer from tainted food and drugs. The world will be watching.