A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: The role of advocates in the appropriations process

Dear Research Advocate:

There is still time — if you act quickly — to urge your representative to sign on to the House letter authored by Representatives McKinley (R-WV-01), Davis (D-CA-53), Carson (D-IN-07) and King (R-NY-02) urging more support for NIH — it will be finalized by close of business today. A similar Senate letter, authored by Senators Casey (D-PA) and Burr (R-NC), will be finalized Tuesday, April 1; ask your senators to sign on today!

An appropriations mechanism known as a “tap” made the news Tuesday when, during a hearing on NIH, Members of Congress asked advocates questions about the use of a tap by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to move money from the NIH appropriation to fund the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and for other uses. While it can sound as though HHS makes this allocation on its own initiative, actually it is the Appropriations Committee that has determined to fund AHRQ in this way, rather than funding it as an independent agency or otherwise. Bottom line, the funding mechanism isn’t what’s at issue here — the real question is whether AHRQ serves the interests of Americans. And it certainly does. As noted in our testimony submitted for the hearing at which the tap issue was raised, AHRQ supports lifesaving, quality and efficiency-enhancing health care research. Like NIH, AHRQ meets our nation’s need for basic non-commercial knowledge, while the private sector finances the critical, commercial R&D that brings final products to the market.

Advocates should not have to do the work of elected officials, sorting out funding mechanisms. Advocates should make the case for the agency or program that is relevant to their interest and expertise, leaving priority-setting and funding mechanisms to Congress. We urge all advocates to stay clear about roles and responsibilities. And we urge advocates to speak up in this appropriations season for the work of AHRQ, as well as that of NIH, NSF, FDA and CDC. All are essential to achieving better health and quality of life — sooner, rather than later!

In a recent New York Times editorial questioning the overly simplistic notion that the private sector is dynamic and efficient and the government sector inefficient, Teresa Tritch underscores the fact that progress in many areas has required the conduct of research that didn’t hinge solely on profitability, i.e. research funded by our tax dollars. She provides examples of how federally supported research has set the stage for numerous private sector innovations and then goes further, making the case that we all benefit when both government-funded science and private-sector are “entrepreneurial.”

Watch your inboxes! Starting next week, my weekly messages will be guest written by senior members of the staff at Research!America while I am at an international conference and then on sabbatical. I will be back in the office in July and look forward to working with you then.

Mary Woolley

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