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  • Washington Highlights

    HHS Secretary Outlines ARPA-H Plan, Other Budget Priorities at House Hearing


    Sinead Hunt, Senior Legislative Analyst
    Christa Wagner, Manager, Government Relations
    For Media Inquiries

    Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra stated on March 31 that the administration plans to situate the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) administratively within the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as lawmakers from both parties expressed concern that the president’s FY 2023 budget request proposes only a minimal funding increase for the NIH and a substantial boost for the new entity.

    Testifying before the House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) Subcommittee regarding President Biden’s fiscal year (FY) 2023 budget request for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Becerra stated that ARPA-H would be established within the NIH to make use of the existing agency’s administrative functions, such as human resources. But the ARPA-H director will report to Becerra rather than to the NIH director and the new entity will be located physically outside of the NIH campus.

    The FY 2022 spending bill provided $1 billion to establish the ARPA-H and some limited authorities within the Office of the HHS Secretary, and allowed the secretary to transfer ARPA-H to any HHS agency or office within 30 days of the omnibus’s enactment [refer to Washington Highlights, March 16].

    The president’s FY 2023 request proposes $5 billion for ARPA-H, a $4 billion (400%) increase over the funding in the omnibus. Meanwhile, the proposal would keep NIH’s base budget effectively flat, requesting $45.5 billion, a $275 million (0.6%) increase over the comparable FY 2022 spending levels.

    Chair of both the subcommittee and full committee Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) noted in her opening statement that, “ARPA-H has tremendous potential to develop breakthrough technologies and advancements, while continuing our important work to reduce health disparities. However, … I must say that the decision to place ARPA-H within the NIH, I believe is a mistake and will hamper the agency's ability to achieve these breakthroughs.”

    She added, “I also believe that the proposed increase of only $274 million for the rest of the National Institutes of Health is insufficient. And threatens the progress this committee has made in the past several years through significant sustained investments in biomedical research.”

    Ranking Member Tom Cole (R-Okla.) echoed DeLauro’s concerns. “I think it's a mistake to shift funding away from basic biomedical research into a brand-new program in one year. ARPA-H will take time to get up and running. … Again, I say that as somebody that supported the creation of the initiative. … Taken as a whole, I disagree strongly with the approach taken in the administration's request.”

    In his testimony Secretary Xavier Becerra also outlined other key provisions of the department’s FY 2023 budget request, which proposes $127.3 billion and $1.7 trillion in discretionary and mandatory funding, respectively [refer to related story].

    Other members of the subcommittee addressed topics including funding for the HRSA’s health workforce programs, fetal tissue research, mental health, maternal and child health, Alzheimer’s disease, and substance use disorder.Both subcommittee leaders noted the importance of passing appropriations bills in a timely manner, with Cole adding that while he anticipates that Congress will pass a continuing resolution for the FY 2023 spending bills at the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, lawmakers need to finalize and pass the bills before the new Congress is in place in January.

    Regarding the ongoing COVID-19 response, DeLauro reiterated a sense of urgency to pass additional emergency funding, which she introduced as a $15.5 billion stand-alone bill (H.R. 7007) during Congress’s consideration of the FY 2022 omnibus. Negotiations are currently underway in the Senate reportedly around a $10 billion package for domestic relief targeted to HHS agencies, with the aim of passing the supplemental spending bill before the chambers recess on April 8.