House panel tweaks autism-fighting bill

House lawmakers took a step toward moving a landmark autism-fighting law following a government investigation found that most federal autism research has the potential to be duplicative.

The Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health approved an amendment Wednesday that would require the Health and Human Services secretary to designate a deputy to oversee federal autism research and services.

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The official would help coordinate anti-autism activities across federal agencies and ensure the projects "are not unnecessarily duplicative," according to the amendment.

The language comes after the Government Accountability Office found last year that 84 percent of autism research projects under current law have the potential to cover each other's ground.

Lawmakers from both parties praised the amendment and predicted it would improve existing programs.

"This important bill will, in fact, continue autism-related research, early identification and intervention and the activities of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee," said Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.).

The underlying statute is the Combating Autism Act of 2006, which is credited with jumpstarting a national effort to fight the disorder and raise awareness. The law is due to sunset at the end of September.

The health subcommittee reauthorized the measure in a voice vote Wednesday and attached a handful of changes, including the new autism-oriented position at HHS.

The changes would also require the government to study the needs of autistic children as they transition to adulthood, as well as the services available to them.

Autism Speaks, the largest advocacy group in the space, had already endorsed the reauthorization measure.

Another group, the Autism Policy Reform Coalition, is pushing Senate lawmakers to back a drastic overhaul of the underlying law, arguing major changes are necessary for funds to be used effectively.

The Energy and Commerce subcommittee also approved two other measures Wednesday.

One, H.R. 4299, seeks to lessen delays in the Drug Enforcement Agency's rulings on certain new drug products, and the other, H.R. 4709, seeks to prevent prescription drug abuse by facilitating collaboration between regulators and industry.