A weekly advocacy message from Mary Woolley: More policy process ahead, no promises

Mary Woolley

Dear Research Advocate: 
Now that the President has signed off on the budget agreement, Appropriations Committee leadership is negotiating to establish the dollar level for each appropriations subcommittee to work with. Given the December 11 deadline for action, the committees are already working to set allocations for each federal agency and program. Here is a list of the Twitter handles for each House and Senate appropriator, along with suggested tweets. Please take a minute to tweet these leaders on why it is so important to increase funding for NIH, CDC, FDA, AHRQ and NSF; federal agencies that help keep the wheels of science and medical progress turning! It’s a mistake to just assume that having come this far, increased funding for those agencies is guaranteed. Many, many public interests are at stake in these discussions; make sure Congress knows this one is crucial.
If appropriators do not take this opportunity to robustly fund research in the U.S., our global leadership could be at risk. In this regard, the new data from the Council on Foreign Relations in Keeping the Edge, is worth a look.  While the U.S. currently ranks higher in many metrics of leadership (including a knowledge-intensive economy and high-quality research institutions) and spends more on R&D than any other nation, trend lines are not good. The report projects that China will surpass the U.S. as the world’s largest R&D spender by 2020 -- at least two years earlier than other recent predictions. Americans are not interested in forfeiting this leadership; polling commissioned by Research!America shows that a majority of Americans feel it is important that the U.S. is a leader in medical, health and scientific research. I spoke to 250 Howard Hughes Medical Institute fellows and post-docs earlier this week about the importance of advocacy for basic science, emphasizing that this is the time for them, and all stakeholders, to weigh in.
Mental health research is receiving overdue attention from both Democrats and Republicans. A House mental health reform bill (H.R. 2646) was marked up this week in the House Energy and Commerce Committee (its companion legislation, S. 1945, is pending consideration by the Senate HELP Committee). Both bills would authorize an additional $40 million annually for 4 years for “research on the determinants of self- and other directed-violence in mental illness,” and for the BRAIN initiative. Clearly, elected officials are listening to the public and responding to devastating statistics, particularly those related to suicide. Our recent polling underscores a clear imperative; two-thirds of the public think it is important for the U.S. to invest public dollars in the prevention of suicide.
Meanwhile, the stakes couldn’t be higher for the Agency for Health Research and Quality (AHRQ), which as recently as a few months ago was slated for major cuts or even elimination.  AHRQ Director Dr. Richard Kronick discussed the importance of his agency’s work in POLITICO Pulse, highlighting research that has made health care safer in hospital, long term care and ambulatory care settings. To learn more about AHRQ and ask Dr. Kronick your questions, please register for our webinar next Tuesday, November 10, 2015 from 1 – 1:30pm EST.
Public Health Thank You Day is coming up on November 23rd. It’s an excellent opportunity to raise the visibility of the many unsung heroes among us who are making a difference every day for health and quality of life. I talked about the ‘invisibility’ of public health -- and ways to overcome it -- at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association this week in Chicago. My session concerned moving from biology to policy. It’s not an automatic step by any means, but since policy and politics are by definition the context we live and work in, it’s critical to know how and when to advocate. 
November is National COPD Awareness Month. We have released an updated fact sheet on the ways research is working to overcome this debilitating, costly, and increasingly prevalent health threat. I invite you to put this and our other fact sheets to work in your advocacy.   

Mary Woolley

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You can change the image of things to come. But you can’t do it sitting on your hands … The science community should reach out to Congress and build bridges.
The Honorable John E. Porter