Washington, DC Update

Posted 14 March 2023

ASTMH continues to advocate before Congress and the Biden administration. Letters that ASTMH led or joined include:
  • A letter to House appropriators requesting increased base funding for the CDC’s Advanced Molecular Detection Program in fiscal year (FY) 2024.
  • A letter to House and Senate appropriators requesting robust funding for CDC programs in the FY 2024 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies appropriations bill.

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President Biden Releases FY 2024 Budget Priorities
On March 9, President Joseph Biden submitted the first part of his budget request to Congress outlining his administration’s spending vision for FY 2024. Overall, the President’s budget included mixed news for federal global health programs. The President’s Budget Request is simply a request intended to guide Congress in its budgetary decision-making process—it is not binding, as Congress has exclusive power of the purse. However, the president’s budget will play a critical role in shaping global health funding priorities for the upcoming fiscal year. Below are some important highlights:
  • Increases: Increases for NIH (+$808m), NIH Office of Aids Research (OAR) (+$379m), Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) (+1b), CDC, (+2.4b), CDC Global Health Center (+$72.16m), CDC National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID) (+$95.23m), the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) (+$65m), increased U.S. contributions to the Pandemic Fund ($500m), and increased investments in the Global Health Worker Initiative (+$20m).
  • Decreases: Notable decreases for PEPFAR (-$25m), Department of State and overall decreases to global health programs at USAID (-$107.95m), including decreases for malaria (-$15m), tuberculosis (TB) (-$36m), and global health security initiatives (-$155m).
  • Level funding: NIAID and Fogarty International Center
+$20 billion in mandatory funding for pandemic prevention and preparedness and biodefense priorities.
House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic Holds First Hearing
On March 8, the House Select  Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic held its first hearing on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. Republicans on the subcommittee tapped three witnesses to testify: Dr. Robert Redfield, former director, CDC; Dr. Jamie Metzl, senior fellow, Atlantic Council; and Nicholas Wade, former Health Eeditor, The New York Times. The three witnesses have previously stated that the virus may have been the result of a lab leak but emphasized at the hearing that the origin of the pandemic still remains an open question. Dr. Paul Auwaerter, Clinical Director,  Division of Infectious Diseases, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, served as the witness for the Democrats.

House and Senate Republicans Launch Probe into Department of Energy and US Intelligence Community Regarding ‘Low Confidence’ Report Conclusions on COVID-19 Origins
Following a new U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) assessment that concluded with “low confidence” that the COVID-19 pandemic’s origin was likely the result of a lab leak, House and Senate Republicans sent oversight letters to DOE and the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) regarding the latest assessment. The House Republican letter, led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) and House Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), requested an updated DOE assessment, “including any underlying analyses from DOE national laboratories,” and a “comprehensive briefing” on DOE’s findings by March 20. Similarly, a group of eight Senate Republicans sent a letter to Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines requesting materials that informed the Intelligence Community’s latest COVID-19 assessment and a detailed briefing from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI)—also by March 20.

Senate Passes Bipartisan Bill to De-Classify Assessments on COVID-19 Origins
The Senate recently passed the COVID–19 Origin Act of 2023 by a unanimous voice vote. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), requires the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to “declassify all information relating to potential links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the origin of COVID-19” and submit an unclassified report to Congress with all such information. The bill unanimously passed the House of Representatives as well. It is not on the President’s desk for signature.

CDC Announces New Director of NCEZID
Dr. Daniel Jernigan was recently announced as the new director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID). Prior to joining NCEZID, Dr. Jernigan served as CDC’s deputy director for public health science and surveillance and was responsible for the CDC’s Data Modernization Initiative. He also served as the director of the Influenza Division in CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases from 2015 to 2021. He was the Influenza Division’s deputy director from 2006 to 2014.

Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response Reorganizes to Better Address Public Health Threats
The Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR) recently reorganized to align with changes mandated by the 21st Century Cures Act and the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act. Specifically, the reorganization cements the creation of the HHS Coordination and Operations Response Element (H-CORE) within ASPR, which was formerly a DOD-shared effort that helped advance interagency coordination and logistics around COVID-19. Other new offices include the Office of Preparedness, Office of Response, Office of the Strategic National Stockpile, and Industrial Base Management and Supply Chain Office. The Office of Industrial Base Management and Supply Chain aims to “build permanent Industrial Base Expansion (IBx) capabilities, inclusive of global supply chain situational awareness, market capabilities and rapid acquisition execution.” BARDA  will also remain an independent office.

USAID Releases Massive Broad Agency Announcement
USAID recently posted a $1 billion Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) calling for proposals from organizations and companies to develop “novel tools and approaches that accelerate and sustain improved health outcomes in low-and-middle-income countries (LMICs).” Furthermore, the intent of the BAA is to “enable and encourage co-creation and co-design in order to generate high quality ideas and effective partnerships with improved efficiency in time and resources”  Specifically, USAID is welcoming co-creation from “ local partners based in LMICs, including the private sector, faith-based organizations, and other non-traditional USAID partners, to increase the presence and voices of local populations in solving their own health challenges.” USAID is expected to deliver three grants related to the BAA.   

FDA Releases MCMi Program Update Report
The FDA  released its annual Medical Countermeasures Initative (MCMi) Program Update report, which reviews medical countermeasure-related (MCMs) public health preparedness and response efforts at FDA. The MCMI Program was launched in 2010 with the goal of “creating clear regulatory pathways for MCMs” and “advancing MCM regulatory science to create the tools that support timely regulatory decision-making.” The report highlights achievements from FY 2022, including approval of several MCMs such as additional COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostic tests; MCMs to diagnose, treat and prevent smallpox and monkeypox in coordination with BARDA; collaboration with U.S. government partners, medical product developers, the WHO and other international partners to respond to emerging infectious disease public health threats; and partnering with the ASPR to create the Innovative Technologies and Advanced Manufacturing Hub, which provides innovation laboratory space, brings technology and manufacturing platforms into FDA, and develops manufacturing quality management metrics.