August 4, 2017
Much work remains to be done before we have an FY18 budget, but the Senate and House Appropriations Committees have taken significant steps as both advanced their agriculture discretionary spending bills for fiscal 2018. The Senate version is somewhat more generous in that it provides $352 million less than fiscal 2017 compared with the House version, which provides $876 million less than the fiscal 2017 levels for the USDA, FDA, and Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Both make cuts across the majority of programs including farm loans, rural development, agricultural research, and efforts to control pests and diseases. On the positive side, it should be noted that both committees rejected President Trump’s request for billions of dollars in additional cuts.
The House Appropriations Committee rejected calls from the White House to close 17 of the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) 112 research facilities. Instead, they are calling for USDA to report to Congress on its research initiative and facility needs. It is reported that ARS is at least $1 billion behind in deferred maintenance needs. Lawmakers are encouraging ARS to develop a plan to open up its more modern facilities to researchers to cut costs. But no funding is provided for USDA’s buildings, arguing instead that the department needs to establish a fund for facilities: "The Committee urges the Department to utilize this authority to address physical infrastructure needs."
Indirect costs: The committee also wants USDA to report within 60 days on how universities and other non-USDA labs are reimbursed for administrative and overhead costs of research. The committee noted that current rates are inconsistent between programs. Universities have long complained that the current reimbursement rate of about 30% from the USDA’s competitive grant program is too low and that this is contributing to crumbling infrastructure at agricultural research institutions.
The White House Office of Management and Budget has been considering severe cuts for indirect cost rates. In President Trump’s FY18 budget, the Administration called for capping overhead grant rates from the National Institutes of Health at 10%. The American Council on Education has said this "would significantly harm the important work being performed at colleges and universities, and threaten America’s current leadership role in medical research." Agriculture would have similar concerns.
The Senate version includes $2.55 billion to support agricultural research conducted by the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). This amount includes $375 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, maintaining the increase provided in FY2017. Formula research funding for land-grant universities is maintained at FY2017 enacted levels. The bill also rejects proposed extramural research project terminations and laboratory closures included in the budget request.
The FASS Science Policy rep joined, via conference call, a meeting of the Friends of Agricultural Statistics and Analysis (FASA). During the meeting, members of the coalition discussed the following actions:
- Submitting a letter in support of Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Agricultural Research Service (NASS) funding to the leaders and members of the budget conference committee from FASA members.
- Developing a set of talking points for those meeting with members and staff on ERS and NASS that highlight the importance of data collection and analysis.
- Nominating an individual to receive an award for being a “Friend of Agricultural Statistics and Analysis” to highlight work done in this area.
Following action by both appropriations committees, a coalition letter was submitted to chairs and ranking members of both committees. The letter will be available on the FASS website. FASS had previously joined a coalition letter from National Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research (NC-FAR) strongly supporting funding for all areas of Research, Education, and Economics (REE). Action on the other items noted above will be moving forward.
The White House announced late Thursday that Stephen Censky, president and CEO of the American Soybean Association (ASA), has been nominated for the role of Deputy Agriculture Secretary. If confirmed for the position by the Senate, he would be responsible for running the day-to-day operations of the Department of Agriculture and overseeing implementation of policies set by the Trump Administration and Congress. Importantly, this includes work on the new Farm Bill, which lawmakers will try to enact before the current legislation expires in September 2018.
Censky has served as ASA’s leader for about two decades. He made expanding US soybean exports a priority, particularly in China, and sought approvals for new biotech traits in seeds. He played a key role in the coalition that advocated against mandatory, on-package labeling of foods containing genetically engineered ingredients. This resulted in compromise legislation that was passed last July.
Censky does have experience on Capitol Hill, where he started his career as a legislative assistant to former South Dakota Republican Senator Jim Abdnor, in which capacity he worked on transportation and agricultural issues. He also served at USDA in both the Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations, worked on the 1990 farm bill, and eventually became administrator of the Foreign Agricultural Service.
On July 19, 2017, President Trump nominated Dr. Sam Clovis to be Undersecretary for Research, Education, and Economics (REE), the department’s top scientific post, and Chief Scientist for USDA. Sam Clovis is currently the White House representative at the USDA, in charge of coordinating White House and USDA policy and staffing under President Donald Trump.
Clovis attended the US Air Force Academy in Colorado, where he earned his bachelor’s degree. Over his 25-year career in the Air Force, he commanded the 70th Fighter Squadron and ultimately rose to the rank of Colonel. Upon his retirement in 1996, Clovis was the Inspector General of the United States Space Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command. Clovis holds an MBA from Golden Gate University and a PhD in public administration from the University of Alabama. He also studied national security at Georgetown University.
Clovis was a tenured professor of economics at Morningside College in Iowa. He was a co-chair and policy advisor for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and was responsible for crafting policy and explaining it in media appearances for the campaign. This post requires Senate confirmation. Several senators have raised questions relative to his qualifications to serve as chief scientist. It is uncertain when action will be taken on the nomination.
All parties are taking action to move forward on the Farm Bill. Both Senate and House Ag Committees have held hearings on various aspects of the bill and listening sessions are being held around the country. The hearings have focused largely on risk management tools and NAFTA preparation. Research has not been a focus to date. The House Agriculture Committee’s "Conversations in the Field" listening sessions are scheduled:
Thursday August 3, 9:30 a.m. (Central time), Minnesota Farmfest, Gilfillan Estates, Morgan, Minnesota.
Saturday August 5, 11:00 a.m. Central time/9:00 a.m. Pacific time, Modesto, California
On the USDA side, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue is set to depart on a five-state Farm Bill tour, beginning Thursday, August 3, at the Wisconsin State Fair. The secretary has indicated that he wants to be "intimately" involved in developing the 2018 bill. Perdue’s summer road trip—dubbed "Back to Our Roots"—will also take him to Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana. His schedule includes listening sessions with producers and consumers from across the country. "USDA will be intimately involved as Congress deliberates and formulates the 2018 Farm Bill," Perdue said in a statement. "We are committed to making the resources and the research available so that Congress can make good, facts-based, data-driven decisions. It’s important to look at past practices to see what has worked and what has not worked, so that we create a farm bill for the future that will be embraced by American agriculture in 2018."
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has announced Science Breakthroughs 2030: A Strategy for Food and Agricultural Research, a new study to identify ambitious scientific opportunities in food and agriculture made possible by incorporating knowledge and tools from across the science and engineering spectrum. The year-long project involves the scientific community in describing research directions with high potential to open new frontiers for food and agriculture science. The public and the scientific community are invited to participate in person or online (via live webcast) in a town hall–style meeting on critical areas for research in food and agriculture on August 8 in the National Academy of Sciences Auditorium in Washington, DC. Online and in-person feedback on the presentations and panel discussions will help the committee focus its search for breakthroughs research. Public submissions to IdeaBuzz will also be spotlighted at the Town Hall.
Register for the Town Hall here.
Internet sources are monitored daily for activities related to science policy that may be areas for potential action. We have reached out to coalitions and other groups that FASS has worked with in the past to ensure that we maintain strong working relationships. The following are some of our specific activities for July:
Participated via conference call in a meeting with the Friends of Agricultural Statistics and Analysis (FASA) relative to support of funding for NASS and ERS as part of the overall research package in the budget and later in the 2018 Farm Bill.
Conversed electronically with NC-FAR to discuss past and future activity.
Letters and related activity
Joined coalition letter originated by FASA supporting funding for research in the FY18 budget. See item above for more.
- Provided information to the Science Policy Committee relative to the status of the Ag Budget in both houses for FY18
- Shared information on USDA nominees
- Shared information and invited input on the NAS Science Breakthroughs 2030: A Strategy for Food and Agricultural Research.
The FASS Science Policy Coordinator will be in Washington, DC, for meetings from August 17 to 23, including confirmed appointments with Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy, director of NIFA; three members of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Government Relations staff; Caron Gala with the Council on Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics (CFARE), FASA, and NC-FAR; and Bill Davis with Animal Agriculture Coalition (AAC) and the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). Several others visits are still being arranged.
For additional details, please contact