May 15, 2012

House budget bill has mixed results for USAID and global health

Policy and Advocacy Officer

On Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee will vote on a State and Foreign Operations (SFOPS) appropriations bill for fiscal year (FY) 2013, which will include funding levels for global health and other programs at the State Department and US Agency for International Development (USAID). This vote follows last week’s markup of the bill by the House SFOPS appropriations subcommittee. Overall, the subcommittee’s bill had mixed results for global health and other programs at USAID: while some programs were sustained at FY 2012 levels, others saw significant budget cuts that will affect the agency’s efforts worldwide.

Under the subcommittee’s bill, the entire State and Foreign Operations account was cut by nine percent. Many bipartisan programs like the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) were flat-funded at FY 2012 levels. USAID’s global health funding, which contributes to global health research and development (R&D) projects, was cut by six percent, a decrease of roughly $150 million. USAID’s operating budget was also slashed by 5%, which will affect all of its programs. No funding levels were outlined for the many disease-specific programs at USAID. These disease-specific funding levels could be added to later versions of the bill, or could be left up to the Obama Administration once the entire appropriations process is completed. The only exception was family planning, which was slashed by one-quarter and given a new overall funding cap of $461 million—$149 million below the FY 2012 levels.

It’s important to remember that the final SFOPS budget for FY 2013 will probably look different from the House bill being considered this week. The Senate is working on its own version of the appropriations bill, and both versions will eventually have to be negotiated if Congress follows a typical appropriations process (which it hasn’t done in the past few years). Whatever the final SFOPS budget looks like, it’s critical that Congress fully funds USAID so it can continue its work in all areas of global health, including the agency’s support of R&D to develop new health tools. And if it’s left to the Administration to make decisions about disease-specific program funding at USAID, funding for R&D and innovation for all disease areas needs to remain a top priority at the agency.

USAID plays a huge role not just in funding product development to combat global health challenges, but also ensuring that new technologies are appropriate for the communities where they will be used. Some of the tools that have benefited from USAID funding and expertise include the RTS,S malaria vaccine candidate, the groundbreaking CAPRISA microbicide trials, and the Xpert TB diagnostic. USAID also works in partnership with many critical players in the global health R&D space, such as other US agencies, the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, and universities.

It’s clear that USAID has seen major successes in its support for global health R&D. As the House Appropriations Committee votes on the SFOPS bill on Thursday and the budget process continues, Congress will have to decide whether it should boldly support USAID’s goal of developing new health tools—tools that are projected to save millions of lives—or withdraw this support and risk halting scientific advancement in its tracks.