As the Food and Drug Administration continues its investigation on the source of salmonella-tainted tomatoes that have sickened 228 people across the U.S., a Government Accountability Office report released yesterday noted that the FDA has failed to implement a November 2007 food protection plan designed to stop such outbreaks before they begin. Key senators had actually pushed to fund the plan, but the FDA was initially unresponsive.
The same month that the food safety plan was released, the FDA's Science Board concluded that the administration lacked the staff and financial resources to implement it, saying that the plan would require an increase of $128 million in fiscal year 2009 alone. Yet despite the need, FDA chief Andrew von Eschenbach at first refused to tell Congress what he would need to implement the plan. It was only after a plea from Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) asking the commissioner how much money he wanted to "protect the public's health" that Eschenbach reversed his stance, and requested $275 million.
On Monday, Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt announced a formal request to include an additional $275 million for the FDA's fiscal year 2009 budget. Frustrated that this money would not get into the FDA's hand for another year, Specter wrote a letter to Leavitt, stating this "submission undermines the work we have been doing to obtain these additional dollars on an expedited basis." Specter's initial offer would have gotten the FDA the money by the end of September.
As The Wall Street Journal reported on its health blog, the FDA may have been reluctant to initially tell Congress exactly how much money was needed because of an obscure Office of Management Budget rule that prohibits a federal agency from publicly disagreeing with the President's budget request.