ASM Policy and Advocacy Update May 30, 2019

Congress has adjourned for a week-long Memorial Day recess and will return on June 3. Prior to recess, the House Appropriations Committee continued to move a number of fiscal year (FY) 2020 spending bills through the Committee, including:
  • Bills that fund the National Science Foundation (NSF)
  • Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science,
  • Research at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Overshadowing the progress in the House was a collapse in budget deal talks between Congress and the White House. On May 21, Washington had high hopes that an agreement to lift strict budgets caps in place for discretionary spending was imminent. Unfortunately, the camaraderie between the leaders was short-lived, it now appears Congress and the White House are back to "square one" on negotiations.

ASM Activities:

Congressional Briefing on Outbreak Detection on May 17
ASM co-hosted a Congressional briefing, "The Essential Role of Diagnostics in Outbreak Detection and Response," with our partners at AdvaMedDx, the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the Association of Public Health Laboratories. Dr. Greg Armstrong, CDC's Director of the Advanced Molecular Detection program, and other expert panelists spoke to a packed room of Congressional staff and other stakeholders to discuss the importance of using next-generation sequencing (NGS) and other cutting edge technologies to detect and address outbreaks more rapidly and more effectively. See the joint press release for the event.

ASM Hosted Microbiome Stakeholder Meeting
ASM will hosted a stakeholder meeting with more than 20 scientific and health organizations to consider a path forward for advocacy activities in support of the microbiome. Building on the work of the Interagency Strategic Plan for Microbiome Research, ASM identified areas of common interest in the study of the microbiome across a diverse array of scientific disciplines.

FY 2020 Appropriations
Despite the impasse in budget negotiations, the House Appropriations Committee continues to move forward with consideration of FY 2020 spending bills to caps agreed to earlier this year in that chamber. As of this week, the House Appropriations Committee has considered all but two of the FY 2020 spending bills, and House leaders hope to have the bills on the floor for consideration in June.

Among the bills advanced this week are those that fund the NSF, DOE Office of Science and USDA research programs.

The House has proposed the following for these programs:
  • $8.65 billion (a $561.14 million increase)for NSF. According to the bill summary, “these funds will foster innovation and U.S. economic competitiveness, including funding for research on advanced manufacturing, physics, mathematics, cybersecurity, neuroscience and STEM education.”
  • Under NASA, the bill includes $123 million for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Engagement, $13 million above current levels, and “rejecting the Administration’s request to eliminate funding for these programs, which help inspire and train the country’s future STEM workforce.”
  • $6.87 billion (a $285 million increase) for the DOE Office of Science. This also includes $10 million for the microbiome data initiative. More complete report language on the microbiome data initiative is as follows:The Committee supports the Department’s efforts to build programmatic bridges and leverage its resources among biological, earth and environmental science programs to facilitate the seamless quantification and prediction of biological-environmental interactions from molecular to ecosystem scales. The Committee encourages the Department to expand its growing focus on the science of biology-based products to advance critical mission needs and to maintain international leadership. The Committee continues to support the Department’s establishment of a national microbiome database collaborative and provides $10,000,000 for microbiome research initiatives, including development and operation of the microbiome database.
  • The House proposes $3.26 billion for agriculture research programs, including the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). While we are still awaiting further details on this bill, it appears that NIFA would receive a $90 million increase, and rumor has it that the bill funds the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative at $445 million (a $30 million increase and equal to the community's request). We will know more details the first week of June when the full House Appropriations Committee takes up the bill.
  • The House proposes a total of $3.26 billion in discretionary funding for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (a $184 million increase). Total funding for the FDA, including revenue from user fees, is $5.86 billion. Food safety activities and development of new medical products are cited as two key areas of focus.

Although originally expected to begin markups the first week of June, the Senate Appropriations Committee is now looking at a later start to its process. The Senate has yet to agree on topline budget numbers and therefore cannot proceed with writing individual spending bills until these levels are determined.

Vaccine Education bills introduced in House and Senate

In light of the recent measles outbreaks around the country, Congress continues to show a strong interest in this area, and as such, a bipartisan group of members in both the House and Senate this week introduced bills to address the need for better vaccination rates and better public education. ASM has been engaged with coalition partners involved with advocating for better vaccine education and other public outreach efforts.

In the House, Rep. Kim Schrier (D-WA) and Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), both physicians, introduced the "Vaccine Awareness Campaign to Champion Immunizations Nationally and Enhance Safety (VACCINES) Act" of 2019. The bill authorizes funding for vaccine hesitancy surveillance activities by the CDC to be followed by a national public messaging campaign, informed by the research, to help improve vaccination rates. In the Senate, Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) introduced a similar bill that would provide grants to entities to carry out a national awareness campaign about the importance of vaccination.