Washington, DC Update

Posted 13 December 2022

ASTMH continues to advocate before Congress and the Biden administration. Letters that ASTMH led or joined include:
  • A letter urging congressional appropriators to support supplemental funding for the global COVID-19 response and support robust federal funding for global health, nutrition, water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), biosafety and biosecurity, and global health research programs in the final FY23 spending package.
  • A letter urging House appropriators to support the Biden-Harris Administration’s supplemental funding request for the global COVID-19 response and to combat other diseases such as hepatitis C and monkeypox, as well as ensuring that the final FY23 appropriations package includes increased investments for federal global health programs.
  • A letter urging House and Senate appropriators to pass the FY23 omnibus spending bill before the current Continuing Resolution (CR) expires on December 16 and include boosted funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other federal research agencies. 

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Recruitment for the Next NIAID Director is Underway
As Anthony Fauci, MD, prepares to step down as Director of NIAID at the end of the month, NIH is seeking candidates for the role. Full position details can be found on NIAID here.

Funding Deadline Looms on Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) Spending Package
Congressional leaders are working to pass another stopgap or omnibus spending bill for FY23 by the end of the year. The current short-term funding bill—known as a Continuing Resolution or “CR”— is set to expire December 16. Given continuing discussions and fraught negotiations over top-line spending figures, lawmakers will likely need to pass another short-term CR to fund the government through the rest of the year until a final deal is reached on a long-term spending bill.

FY23 National Defense Authorization Act Released, Includes Amendment on Global Health Security and Pandemic Preparedness
The bill text for Congress’s must-pass annual defense spending legislation—the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)—was recently released. The FY23 bill includes an amendment, submitted by Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Ranking Member Jim Risch (R-ID), that would:
  • Direct the president to implement a comprehensive strategy for improving U.S. “global health security and diplomacy for pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response,” specifically the CDC’s Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA)
  • Authorize the President to designate a senior official as the U.S. Coordinator for Global Health Security and appoint an Ambassador-At-Large for Global Health Security and Diplomacy at the Department of State
  • Require the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), Secretary of State and other relevant federal agencies to submit an annual joint report to Congress discussing the U.S. government’s “efforts and opportunities to establish or strengthen effective early warning systems to detect infectious disease threats internationally”
  • Authorize U.S. participation in the Pandemic Fund at the World Bank
While the NDAA doesn’t technically provide spending authority to the agencies, the amendment, if enacted, would authorize $5 billion in funding for global health security and pandemic preparedness for use over five years.

Republicans Demand Government-Wide Moratorium on Gain of Function Research
Republican Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Roger Marshall (R-KS) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) sent a letter to White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Arati Prabhakar, PhD, demanding that the federal government cease “all viral Gain-of-Function (GoF) and Dual Use Research of Concern (DURC) studies in the life sciences involving all enhanced pathogens of pandemic potential (ePPP).” The senators argue that these experiments lack oversight, clear guidelines and pose potential risks of outbreaks from laboratory accidents.
The letter follows last month’s release of the Senate Republican staff report on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, which suggested that the outbreak was “most likely the result of a research-related incident.”
Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee (E&C) also recently sent a letter to NIH Acting Director Lawrence Tabak regarding the agency’s lack of response to 12 letters requesting information on various matters related to the causes of COVID-19 and NIH grant dollars. The latest Republican E&C letter asks for written responses to all requests by December 16.

Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Leadership Expected to Change in the 118th Congress
Senate HELP Committee Chair Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) is expected to serve as Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee for the 118th Congress, following the retirement of longtime Appropriations Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT). HELP Committee Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC) will also retire at the end of the 117th Congress, leaving both leadership posts open. Based on seniority, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) would be next in line to serve as Chair of the HELP Committee and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) would be the next Ranking Member. Both Sander’s and Cassidy’s offices have confirmed that they would accept the leadership roles.

White House Expands Global Health Security Partnerships
The Biden-Harris Administration recently announced a series of new actions to advance global health security and accelerate implementation of the National Biodefense Strategy, which was released last month. These strategies include but are not limited to:
  • Supporting at “least 50 countries, by 2025, to strengthen and achieve regional, national and local capacity in five critical areas to prevent, detect and respond to infectious disease threats”
  • Strengthening and supporting the extension of the multilateral GHSA beyond 2023
  • Supporting the Pandemic Fund as a founding board member 
  • Accelerating G7 commitments made by the United States and its close allies in 2021 and 2022
  • Partnering with the World Health Organization and Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to conduct an external review of U.S. health security and pandemic preparedness
White House Requests Emergency Supplemental Funding for COVID-19
President Biden requested approximately $10 billion from Congress to support U.S. COVID-19 response as part of the year-end spending package. In his letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the President warned that “failure to provide more funding would lead to needless infections and deaths across the nation and around the world.” The additional funding would help jumpstart development on new coronavirus vaccines and therapeutics, strengthen international health and health security systems, support health workers and combat other diseases such as hepatitis C and monkeypox.

PEPFAR Reinvigorates U.S Response to End HIV/AIDS by 2030
On World AIDS Day and ahead of its 20th anniversary in 2023, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) released a new five-year strategy to drive U.S. HIV/AIDS response. The strategy aims to accelerate achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of ending the global AIDS pandemic as a public health threat by 2030, while “sustainably strengthening public health systems.” The strategy is guided by five strategic pillars: Health Equity for Priority Populations, Sustaining the Response, Public Health Systems and Security, Transformative Partnerships and Follow the Science.