NYT and WSJ reverse roles? Truth of FDA dollars and safety

by reader hcovitz

The irony here is that it was the NYT that posted the “mouthpiece for the Bush admin” type article and the WSJ that posted the corrective. What’s up with that?
(from More Money for Food Safety Is Sought)

WASHINGTON — Two days after announcing a large-scale recall of raw tomatoes, the Bush administration asked Congress on Monday to give the Food and Drug Administration an additional $275 million in next year’s budget to help improve the safety of the nation’s food supply.

“I would like to once again strongly urge Congress to act quickly to enhance the safety of food and medical products,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt in an evening conference call with reporters.

With the added money, the F.D.A. would open offices in China, India and Central America and provide more inspections of food and medical products, Mr. Leavitt said. The agency would also hire another 490 people in addition to hires the agency already planned.

“We’ll be able to expand the total workforce by 1,500 people, or 15 percent growth,” the food and drug commissioner, Andrew C. von Eschenbach, said.

Rdan here…the rest and comments below the fold.

The announcement comes after a series of food and drug safety problems led a panel of outside advisers to the agency to conclude that American lives were in danger because the F.D.A. lacked the money, the staff and the scientific expertise to protect them. No mention of how disingenuous this move is by Bush’s FDA.

At the end of the article we get:

That gap between the administration’s proposals and its ability to pay or plan for them has yawned so wide that in May Dr. von Eschenbach wrote an unusual letter to Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, saying the agency needed an immediate infusion of $275 million beyond the president’s budget request to ensure that imported food, drugs and medical devices were safe.

The president’s original budget request, made in February, asked Congress to provide the agency with an allocated budget for the 2009 fiscal year of $1.77 billion, which included an increase of $50.7 million over the previous year — not enough even to cover increased salary expenses at the agency. The new request for $275 million would come in addition to the earlier request for $50.7 million, Mr. Leavitt said.

At an April hearing, Representative John D. Dingell, Democrat of Michigan, asked Dr. von Eschenbach again and again to state a figure that would allow the agency to inspect imported food and drugs adequately. And again and again, Dr. von Eschenbach refused to give an answer.

“There’s high legislative interest in this matter. That’s gratifying,” Mr. Leavitt said Monday night. “Given that we have a budget on the table, we should get action.”

So here’s the WSJ, of all places, where we get the real story, that this move undercuts efforts already underway which are, in fact, being blocked by Bush:
(from Sen Specter Says FDA Can’t Even Ask for Money Properly)

Now that the FDA has gotten around to asking for $275 million more from Congress for inspections, the agency got another tongue-lashing from frequent critic Sen. Arlen Specter, who chastised HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt for compounding months of foot-dragging with a dollop of spin.

And continues:

So, the HHS and FDA have asked for the cash. But the way they did it would put FDA on tap to receive the emergency funds in March or April of next year. Specter (R-Penn.) wants it done a lot sooner, WSJ.com reports. “The grave problem with that is that the FDA has become a joke,” Specter told a Judiciary Committee hearing today.

Then there’s the way the FDA has presented its about-face. Lately, von Eschenbach and Leavitt have sounded like they’re the ones champing at the bit for more money while Congress dilly-dallies. “I would like to once again strongly urge Congress to act quickly to enhance the safety of food and medical products,” Leavitt told reporters in a conference call Monday night.

That really set off Specter, who wrote by hand at the bottom of a letter to Levitt: “I am really surprised by your comment quoted in The NY Times today urging Congress to act quickly when the Administration is drastically hindering NECESSARY immediate relief by delaying the funding for 8 or 9 months. The FDA NEEDS this money now to save lives.”

And its great that Arlen Specter is minding the shop, but can’t some Dems step up to the plate (or are they just not getting the coverage)?

The WSJ also saw fit to wrap all this up in an article (the above was a blog):

Specter Says Bush Administration
Is Hindering Quick FDA Funding
June 11, 2008 11:54 a.m.

WASHINGTON — Sen. Arlen Specter said the Bush administration is “drastically hindering” the Food and Drug Administration’s ability to quickly get an important boost in funding.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, Sen. Specter said the FDA’s request on Monday for an additional $275 million wouldn’t give them any money until March or April 2009 “at the earliest.”

In a handwritten note on the letter, the Pennsylvania Republican said the “Administration is drastically hindering necessary immediate relief by delaying the funding for eight or nine months.” He added, “FDA needs this money now to save lives.”

A spokeswoman for Sen. Specter confirmed that he is referring to the Bush administration in the hand-written portion of the letter.

Sen. Specter has been working to get the agency $275 million in the fiscal 2008 supplemental appropriations bill. He said the FDA’s request “undermines” the Senate’s efforts to get the agency funds on an “expedited basis.”

Sen. Specter acknowledged Congress is considering eliminating the FDA funding from the supplemental appropriations bill. If the bill was signed with the FDA funding intact, the FDA would have to receive the money by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

On Monday, while under pressure from recent recalls of imported drugs and other products, the FDA formally requested $275 million from Congress to pay for more inspections.

In mid-May FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach wrote a letter to Sen. Specter suggesting an additional $275 million in the wake of a series of hearings on Capitol Hill over the FDA’s handling of the crisis involving contaminated heparin, a blood thinner, from China. Mr. von Eschenbach’s letter wasn’t a formal request and only represented his professional judgment.

Sen. Specter said in Tuesday’s letter that the FDA’s recent request shows a lack of urgency on the agency’s behalf.

“The 81 deaths due to contaminated heparin and the one suspected death in the ongoing salmonella outbreak show that we cannot wait nine months to give FDA the resources needed to protect the public,” Sen. pecter said, according to a copy of the letter.

Contaminated heparin from China has been linked to 81 deaths. Last week, the FDA said it found an additional 11 deaths tied to medical devices that contained heparin. The agency is still trying to determine whether the heparin in those cases was contaminated.

And here is a link to Arlen Specter’s letter as a PDF.
This one by hcovitz

Rdan: AB has 45 posts on the FDA, one which mentions the head of FDA saying no more money was needed from 2007. Also this http://angrybear.blogspot.com/2007/12/fda.html