Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., introduced a standalone bill to create the agency.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., introduced a standalone bill to create the agency. Greg Nash/Pool via AP

Lawmaker Introduces Standalone Bill for Biden’s Health Agency 

The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health would conduct federal research on cancer and other diseases. 

A top Democrat introduced a bill on Friday to create the health agency that President Biden proposed in his fiscal 2022 budget request. The standalone bill could be critical because a plan for the agency has reportedly been cut out of a social spending measure in the Senate.

Biden's fiscal 2022 budget preview said he sought $6.5 billion to create the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health for federal research on cancer, Alzheimer’s and other diseases. In late July, the House passed a spending bill that allocated $3 billion for it and “specified that funding would only be available if legislation specifically establishing ARPA-H is enacted into law,” said the Congressional Research Service. On Monday afternoon, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee introduced the panel’s spending bills for fiscal 2022, which include $2.4 billion for the agency that will also “only be made available if legislation specifically establishing [it] is enacted into law.”

Politico reported on October 8 that, “Sources on and off Capitol Hill say it will be cut from the Senate’s version of the reconciliation bill because it requires regulatory authorities outside the scope of the chamber’s strict rules for passing bills with a simple majority through the process known as reconciliation.” The reconciliation bill is separate from fiscal 2022 spending bills. On October 15, Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., chairwoman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Panel, announced her standalone bill to create the agency. 

“A nimble, dynamic, and independent ARPA-H, modeled after the esteemed Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), will transform health and medicine,” said Eshoo in a press release. “My legislation provides ARPA-H with the authorities, structure and resources it needs to be successful” and “will allow ARPA-H to focus on developing breakthrough technologies that would otherwise die in the commercial market.” The agency would be “a beacon of hope for so many Americans fighting for their lives,” she said. 

The press release said that Eshoo met with Biden in March to discuss the agency and has been working on crafting the legislation since then. The president would appoint someone in the Health and Human Services Department to be director, who would report to the HHS secretary, the bill states. Directors would serve five-year terms with the ability to be reappointed for one consecutive term.

Starting one year after enactment and every fiscal year thereafter, the director must submit a report to Congress about the agency’s actions. After a year and then every four years thereafter, the director must submit a strategic plan. 

The ARPA-H director would also establish an interagency advisory committee that would include top federal public health officials, such as the National Institutes of Health director, Office of Science and Technology Policy director, Food and Drug Administration commissioner, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director. 

The text of the bill also outlines what hiring authorities the agency would have as well as its “autonomy” in regard to legislative recommendations and congressional testimony. The annual budget request would be separate from the rest of HHS.

Politico noted on Monday that “Eshoo will have to contend with committee members [Reps.] Diana DeGette, D-Colo., and Fred Upton, D-Mich., who included the agency in a 21st Century Cures 2.0 bill they also want passed this year and plan to introduce soon.” 

As spending negotiations go on, the White House and other administration officials have been working to plan for and shape the creation of the agency. 

Following NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins’ announcement that he would be stepping down at the end of the year, Biden said in a statement on October 5 that after he was elected, Collins “was one of the first people I asked to stay in his role with the nation facing one of the worst public health crises in our history” as well as “to help lay the groundwork for the first-of-its-kind Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health.” 

The White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy and NIH hosted 15 listening sessions on the proposed agency, which they summarized in a report released on September 30. 

For Biden, the issue of cancer is personal as his son Beau Biden died of brain cancer in May 2015. As vice president, under President Obama, he led the cancer moonshot initiative aimed at eradicating the disease.  

This article has been updated to include the introduction of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s spending bills for fiscal 2022.