Saturday, September 15, 2007

FDA Chief Warns Staff About Possible Layoffs

The head of the Food and Drug Administration alerted the agency's employees at the end of the workday yesterday that 2,000 of them could get layoff notices as early as next Friday if Congress does not renew the user fees for drugs and medical devices.

In his agency-wide memo to the staff, FDA Commissioner Andrew C. von Eschenbach said he was confident that lawmakers would renew the user fees that help fund the agency's work. But he added that he also wanted them to know that a consequence of the fees' nonrenewal would be a reduction-in-force notice. The layoffs would take effect 60 days after the issuance of such a notice.

"All parties fully understand the importance of meeting the September 21st deadline [to renew the fees] because no one underestimates or fails to appreciate the disruption and demoralizing impact that even the threat of a RIF is having on you and your families," von Eschenbach wrote.

The commissioner said that FDA and congressional staff members were working around the clock to finalize the legislation.

Clash Looms Over Plan For Children's Health

House and Senate Democratic leaders are on the verge of a deal to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program, setting up a major confrontation with President Bush, senior congressional aides said.

The insurance program, a federal-state partnership that covers about 6 million children, will expire Sept. 30 unless Congress and the president agree to extend it.

House and Senate Democratic leaders are nearing agreement to spend around about $35 billion more on the program over five years, aides said. The figure is significantly below that approved by the House but is close to the amount that cleared the Senate this summer by a veto-proof 68 to 31 vote.

The new funding would expand the program to serve more children whose parents' incomes put them well above the poverty line. The proposed expansion has drawn a veto threat from Bush, who wants the emphasis to remain on the poor.

Less Religious Freedom In Iraq, U.S. Reports

Religious freedom has sharply deteriorated in Iraq over the past year because of the insurgency and violence targeting people of specific faiths, despite the U.S. military buildup intended to improve security, a State Department report said.

The Annual Report on International Religious Freedom found that the violence is not confined to the well-known rivalry between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. "The ongoing insurgency significantly harmed the ability of all religious believers to practice their faith," said the report, released by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

John V. Hanford III, the department's ambassador at large for international religious freedom, told reporters: "What we're dealing with in Iraq is really a security situation that makes it difficult for religious practice to occur in a normal way."

The report, covering July 2006 through June, does not mention the August suicide bombings that killed 520 people -- mainly members of the Yazidi community, a Kurdish-speaking religious minority. The bombings were blamed on the group al-Qaeda in Iraq.

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