December 10, 2018
Congress returned to Washington, DC, following the midterm elections for the lame duck session with several items unfinished, including the Farm Bill and the FY19 budget. Some type of action is needed on both before the new Congress begins work in January. The death of President George H. W. Bush resulted in a pause on congressional activity as both houses took time to honor him and his service.
The Farm Bill and FY19 Ag Budget – Where Are We?
Negotiations have been ongoing for several weeks on both the Farm Bill and the FY19 budget for agriculture and several other agencies. Although progress has been reported on both, details are still missing. On November 29, Senate and House Agriculture Committee Chairmen Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Mike Conaway (R-Texas) and Ranking Members Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) made the following announcement on the state of 2018 Farm Bill negotiations:
“We’re pleased to announce that we’ve reached an agreement in principle on the 2018 Farm Bill. We are working to finalize legal and report language as well as CBO scores, but we still have more work to do. We are committed to delivering a new farm bill to America as quickly as possible.”
No text for the bill is available yet, as the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) needs to complete their evaluation and estimate of the cost of the bill before further action can be taken. Both houses will need to pass the compromise bill and the President will need to sign it this month or the new Congress will need to restart the process. While the actual language of the compromise is still unknown, it reportedly are that it will have only minor changes from the 2014 Farm Bill.
On the budget side, a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government open through December 21 has been signed. This may delay action on the Farm Bill as legislators work to prevent a government shutdown. A major area of disagreement on the budget is the President’s demand of funding for a border wall.
FASS will continue to monitor the situation and provide input and advocate for ag research as the process moves forward. Stay tuned for more news as it develops.
Update on USDA ERS and NIFA Move
In spite of continued widespread concern and questions raised by scientists, former agency administrators, researchers, and some members of Congress, plans for reorganization of the USDA continue to move forward. No details have been provided as to how the 136 Expressions of Interest (EOIs) will be evaluated, but Secretary Perdue recently said that under an "aggressive timeline," the department plans to announce the research agencies’ new location by the end of the first quarter next year. However, he hedged his remarks, adding, "we want to do it right rather than fast." Several lawsuits have been filed questioning the legality of the plan.
FASS continues to work with coalitions that have recommended to USDA it
- delay any further actions on relocation until questions can be addressed;
- convene a formal public comment period; and
- provide data and analysis used to inform the decision to relocate.
In addition, we are using a variety of communication tools to reach Congress, asking members to
- hold oversight hearings;
- request an independent study with a cost-benefit analysis of the plan; and
- delay or prohibit relocation and reorganization until questions and concerns are addressed in appropriations and/or the Farm Bill
Copies of letters are on the FASS Website.
As expected by most observers, Democrats won control of the House in the midterm elections. This means that when the new Congress begins work in January, Democrats will chair the House committees and have the majority of members on each committee. Thus, Democrats will also determine what bills are brought to the floor in the House and when they are considered. Committee membership has not yet been announced, but it is anticipated that Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) will again chair the House Ag Committee.
A nomination hearing was held by the Senate Ag Committee on November 28 for Dr. Scott Hutchins to serve as Undersecretary for Research, Education and Economics, and Chief Scientist; Dr. Mindy Brashears to serve as Undersecretary for Food Safety; and Naomi Churchill Earp to be USDA Assistant Secretary of Agriculture for Civil Rights. The committee is expected to vote on the nominees on December 5. The nominations then move to the full senate for consideration. A recording of the hearing is available here.
FASS Inc. Science Policy Coordination Activities – November
During the past month, we have been involved in a variety of activities related to the Farm Bill and USDA plans. We participated in two coalition conference calls relative to the Farm Bill and USDA’s plans to move ERS and NIFA. We also participated in a webinar on the impact of the midterm elections. Information was shared with trade media editors and resulted in a radio interview with the Brownfield Radio network. We provided Senate staff with questions for use in the nomination hearing of Dr. Scott Hutchins to serve as Undersecretary for Research, Education, and Economics and Chief Scientist. We also coordinated a conference call meeting of the FASS Science Policy Committee. The committee discussed current activities and future committee plans.
As noted, USDA is continuing to move forward with reorganization plans for ERS and NIFA. Scientists and other interested persons are encouraged to speak out to their members of Congress on these issues that will have long-term impacts on our ability to do needed research.
Suggested NIFA and ERS Talking Points
- The interaction of NIFA administrators and program leaders with personnel from other USDA agencies as well as agencies outside of USDA, such as FDA, EPA, the Department of Energy, NSF, and others, is critical to planning and meeting future research needs. This is best accomplished by being located in the Washington, DC, area in close proximity to these agencies.
- Interaction with stakeholders is vital to identifying research needs. This is facilitated by being located in the Washington, DC, area so that stakeholders can meet with key NIFA personnel on the same visit in which they meet with personnel from other agencies.
- No documented evidence has been provided to show difficulty in filling positions at NIFA other than difficulty in obtaining authorization to fill the positions. On the other hand, the forced relocation of staff from the Washington, DC, area is certain to result in the loss of significant numbers of experienced, well-qualified agency staff and support personnel, resulting in lower efficiency and productivity.
- NIFA is a national research granting agency. To maintain the respect and trust of stakeholders and the general public in the funding decisions they make, it is critical that NIFA be recognized as independent and unbiased. Their current location in Washington, DC, facilitates this.
- ERS has broadened its research portfolio to provide greater coverage of department issues and policies as well as a more integrated approach to research that includes expanded use of social sciences in the studies. Loss of key personnel and their current location near collaborators would severely limit their research in the future. Moving the organization away from REE to a more political part of USDA could also jeopardize their autonomy and the perception of their work as being that of an independent agency.
Please contact us with questions and ideas. We will provide additional information as it becomes available. We need to work together to maintain a strong and effective national research effort.
A reminder, you can check out the FASS SPC Webinar “The Impact and Role of Public Funding in Agriculture and the US Economy” by following this link. We encourage you to share the link with others who may have an interest in research.
If you are interested in science policy and being and an advocate for agricultural science, the FASS SPC is looking for you. We have openings for a couple additional members on the committee. Please contact us for details.
If you are interested in communicating occasionally with members of Congress, we are also looking for FASS Science Policy Advocates. Contact Ken Olson for details.
FASS Science Policy Chair steps down
Dear friends and colleagues,
I am stepping down as the FASS Science Policy Chair. It has definitely been a good experience, and I think we have helped maintain a good voice for agricultural and animal sciences at the federal level.
I encourage all of you personally and professionally to be fully aware of what is happening with agricultural groups and the federal government and to provide your voice in any way you can. Waiting in your offices and labs and hoping “they don’t cut my area” is not a sound approach. There are fundamental structural issues that have held agricultural and animal agricultural sciences back, and they have been around far longer than the present federal administration.
All of agriculture needs to speak with one voice, and all of the agricultural animal fields must work together in particular, including FFA, undergraduate and graduate education, public and private research, farmers, and businesses and consumers. It will take champions, and some of them will be you. I will remain involved in a number of ways, and one of them will be to help bring all the animal sciences groups back together again to speak at the federal level with one voice.
It will not be easy, as there is an almost 50-year period of inertia in this area. Get aware, get involved, speak up, and convince people—voters and consumers—that animal agriculture is an essential way forward for all of humanity.
Consider joining the FASS SPC to help bring this change from within. Call me or Ken Olson directly to discuss ways you can help.
John P. McNamara
Fellow, American Dairy Science Association
Fellow, American Society of Animal Sciences
Ken Olson, PhD, PAS,
FASS Science Policy Coordinator
John P McNamara, PhD
Chair, FASS SPC