January 4, 2010
December 2009 brought yet another Christmas at the Capitol for Congress. Senators worked until Christmas Eve day to complete their version of the health care reform bill. On a strictly party line vote, the Senate was able to muster 60 votes for the package, setting up a conference with the House in early 2010 to resolve differences. There are significant differences in the two versions that must be reconciled before a bill can be presented to the President. Expect a continued focus on health care when Congress returns from the holiday break.
Also on Christmas Eve, the Senate confirmed Rajiv Shah as the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Shah has previously held the position of USDA Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics (REE). In anticipation of Shah’s move to USAID, FASS Washington Representatives drafted a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack identifying the characteristics we believe are important in an REE Under Secretary. These include experience in conducting and managing research in the field of agriculture, an appreciation of USDA’s intramural and extramural science programs, familiarity with the Land Grant University System and the “three legged stool” of research, education and extension, and support for a balanced investment across agricultural disciplines. The Obama Administration has not yet announced a nominee for the REE position. In the interim, current Deputy Under Secretary Molly Jahn has been named Acting Under Secretary, and Roger Beachy has been named Acting Chief Scientist.
FASS Washington Representatives also developed a press release announcing FASS’ support for the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) response to the Pew Commission’s report on industrial farm animal production. The release outlines FASS concerns with the process used to draft the Pew Commission report, as well as substantive concerns with the report’s conclusions and recommendations.
Also in December, FASS Washington Representative Lowell Randel was asked to participate on a writing team for the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Report on Research and Development for 2011. The writing team consists of representatives from several scientific organizations and the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU). The team will assess the FY 2011 budget for USDA, as well as look across other agency programs supporting science in food, nutrition, agriculture and natural resources.
Washington Representatives continue to participate in a variety of conference calls with FASS and founding society committees. One such call of note came with the FASS Scientific Advisory Committee on Animal Care. The SAC discussed efforts by the Humane Society of the United States to urge the Obama Administration to establish an animal protection liaison at the White House. FASS is currently preparing a letter detailing concerns with this approach.