The US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) held a hearing on December 14 to nominate Dr. Robert Califf as the next FDA Commissioner. Several Senate HELP Committee Republicans following Dr. Califf’s hearing said they would support returning him to the commissioner position—a position he previously held towards the end of the Obama administration. Their support will likely push Califf through a committee vote and, later, a full Senate vote on the nomination. However, it would be fair to note members on both sides of the aisle publicly expressed concerns regarding Dr. Califf’s previous history as FDA Commissioner and with his health and policy work with Google’s parent company, Alphabet.
A confirmation vote in January would give the FDA a permanent leader for the first time during the Biden administration and perhaps more importantly, during a time when the agency faces several important decisions. Six former FDA commissioners have endorsed Califf's candidacy in a letter to the committee, saying he was committed to public service, advancing science and clinical evidence.
NAVREF and Dr. Califf crossed paths in 2020 during the NAVREF Annual Conference which was conducted virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During his presentation entitled Evidence Generation - Learning from the Pandemic, he acknowledged his supportive position of VA Research and recognized NAVREF for working closely with VA ORD to advance veterans health research.
NAVREF is still working with veterans affairs committee staffers to pass key provisions contained in the VIPER Act. We are cautiously optimistic the provisions will be included in an end of year legislative package focused on veteran issues that will likely be pushed to January.
The VIPER Act was introduced on October 25 and aims to improve the VA Medical and Prosthetic Research program by providing additional authority and resources for VA research. NAVREF along with the FOVA executive committee has been working closely with lawmakers to bring key language to fruition.
The bill also includes provisions to:
· Expand the VA’s hiring authority for certain classes of research occupations, including data scientists and statisticians.
· Create a career development award grant program for researchers at smaller universities.
· Mandate a Government Accountability Office study on the retention of VA clinician-scientists and the productivity of their research