NEW YORK Lawmakers should think carefully before cutting taxpayer funding for the Food and Drug Administration in an effort to reduce government spending, the agency's chief said on Tuesday.
Republicans, who will take over the U.S. House of Representatives in January, campaigned on promises to cut funding for federal government operations, a plan that could put the FDA in the cross-hairs with other government agencies.
"Not every function of government can be cut to the same degrees using the same tools. I think we should proceed with real care," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said at the Reuters Health Summit in New York.
"It should be recognized if we can't do our job and do it well there isn't any other entity that will backstop behind us," she said.
"What we do really matters to health," Hamburg added.
The FDA oversees about 25 percent of the U.S. economy including prescription and over-the-counter drugs, medical devices such as implanted pacemakers and artificial knees, most foods, and many other consumer products. Last year, Congress also ordered the FDA to regulate tobacco.
Industry and consumer groups agree the FDA is stretched thin with its current budget of more than $3 billion despite steady increases in recent years. Advocates have lobbied Congress for the past several years to add money.
Democrats retain control of the Senate and the White House but will need to work with House Republicans who won a majority in last week's midterm elections when setting agency funding.
Hamburg said the FDA's "responsibilities outstrip our resources" and one of the growing challenges is the rapid globalization of the food and drug supply.
"It's one area where we need to strengthen despite economic pressures," she said.
Hamburg also said the agency was looking for ways to be more efficient and had taken steps to better inform the public about how the agency spends its money. (Link to Reuters Insider video: link.reuters.com/ban44q)
Part of the agency's budget comes from industry fees levied on drug and device makers that submit applications for product approval. The current fees expire in 2012, and the FDA has begun negotiating with companies on an extension.
"Industry recognizes that it will have to continue to invest to broaden and strengthen some of these programs." Hamburg said.
The former New York City health commissioner took over the FDA in May 2009 and said she has no plans to leave her current post.
"It's a difficult job, no doubt about it. Every day I'm grappling with important issues," Hamburg said.
But she said "you really do feel that what you are doing makes a difference and that is very rewarding. I have no plans to go."
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine and Susan Heavey, editing by Matthew Lewis and Carol Bishopric)