November 8, 2018
Congress has been on recess this month so they can be home campaigning. There has been some behind-the-scenes work on the Farm Bill and budget by staff members and committee leaders, but nothing has been released that appears ready to move forward. The outcome of the election is likely to affect what happens to both pieces of legislation, but it is still difficult to say what they will be.
The Farm Bill: Where Are We?
As noted last month, the Farm Bill is in conference, but the September 30 deadline came and went with no final agreement on any of the titles in the bill. Committee leaders continue to indicate optimism that they will be able to get a bill done this year, but no breakthroughs have been reported since members of Congress went home to campaign. During discussions of the bill, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has generated most of the news, but significant issues remain on conservation funding and support for farmers. Currently, nearly 40 programs with mandatory funding of $2.8 billion over the five-year life of the bill are being maintained by the department but are at risk of seeing their funding lapse or not having a baseline beyond fiscal 2018. More programs will fall into that situation over time unless an agreement is reached.
The committee chairs and ranking members along with staff did commit to working over the break to find solutions, but nothing appears imminent. If the democrats gain control of the House, as predicted by many, there will be a new set of dynamics in play. The House version of the bill was passed with no democratic support. If they are in control of the House, they will want something different to move forward that is likely to be much closer to the Senate bill, which had wide bipartisan support. Looking ahead, some potential options include the following:
- Agreeing to a conference report to be presented and voted on following the mid-term elections. It has not been possible to agree to a report previously, so this is very unlikely.
- A short-term extension to avoid the “cliff” at the end of December that would end many programs but would require that negotiations start over with the new Congress that includes new committee membership and possible leadership change following the election.
- Extend the 2014 Farm Bill for three years to provide more opportunity to develop a path forward after the next presidential election.
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.
The Ag Budget
As noted last month, on September 28, President Trump signed into law a spending bill that provided full-year appropriations for several federal agencies and stopgap funding though a continuing resolution that runs through December 7 for the USDA and other agencies that have not yet received regular appropriations. These agencies account for 25% of annual discretionary spending. Congressional negotiators have been in conference over a third “minibus” that includes funding for the Departments of Agriculture, Interior, Treasury, Transportation, and HUD as well as OPM and GSA. So far, no progress has been reported. If democrats gain control of one or both houses of Congress in in the midterm elections, there will be a new dynamic in the discussion with new committee members and leaders. Another continuing resolution may be in the works to provide time for committee members to sort things out.
Update on USDA ERS and NIFA Move
In spite of widespread concern and questions raised by scientists, former agency administrators, research users, and some members of Congress, USDA plans for reorganization continue to move forward. The plan includes moving the Economic Research Service (ERS) from USDA’s Research, Education, and Economics mission area to be realigned with the Office of the Chief Economist (OCE) under the Office of the Secretary. Additionally, most employees of ERS and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) are to be relocated outside of the National Capital Region. USDA did receive 136 expressions of interest (EOI) from parties in 35 states to host the headquarters and personnel for the two agencies. No details have been provided as to how these EOI will be evaluated, but several lawsuits have been filed questioning the legality of the plan.
FASS joined coalition letters that have recommended that the USDA
- 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
and that Congress
- 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 or the Farm Bill.
Copies of letters are on the FASS website.
NIFA Listens: Investing in Science to Transform Lives—FASS Comments
The FASS science policy coordinator participated in the listening session that was held October 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He joined others in raising concern over the likely impact of USDA’s plan to move NIFA and ERS staff out of the Washington, DC, area on the agency’s ability to fulfill their mission in the future. In looking at research direction for the future, he stressed the need for increased funding and balance in funding between plant and animal sectors. He shared three areas identified in the FASS led FAIR 2012 effort for use by NIFA in their plans:
- Food security—ensuring an adequate supply of safe and healthy food for a growing world population
- One health—all aspects of the intersection between animal and human health
- Stewardship or caring for the environment and the well-being of animals
A copy of the testimony is available on the FASS website in the coalition letter section.
Written comments may still be provided electronically through the stakeholder input form on the meeting website or emailed to NIFAlistens@nifa.usda.gov until November 30.
J. Scott Angle begins service as the Director of NIFA
J. Scott Angle was recently sworn in as the director of NIFA at the USDA. President Trump appointed Angle for a six-year term at the agency on August 31.
“Dr. Angle has more than 35 years of experience in scientific research and administration, and I am confident that he will move NIFA forward in many ways,” said Chavonda Jacobs-Young, USDA’s acting under secretary for research, education, and economics. “His academic track record of providing practical solutions to local, regional, and national challenges, as well as his globally focused experience, will help NIFA as it supports the science required to help U.S. agriculture and rural communities achieve sustainable economic prosperity.”
Angle most recently served as president and CEO of the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC), an organization that helps agriculture in developing countries use fertilizer and other technologies. Scott’s resume includes 10 years as dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at the University of Georgia and a long academic and administrative tenure at the University of Maryland.
New Members Appointed to USDA NAREEE Advisory Board
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue recently announced the appointment of 10 members to serve on the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics (NAREEE) Advisory Board.
The NAREEE Board regularly advises the secretary and land grant colleges and universities on top national priorities and policies related to food and agricultural research, education, extension, and economics. The board’s main objective is to contribute to effective federal agricultural research, education and economics programs through broad stakeholder feedback and sound science. Board members also perform an annual review of the relevance of the research, education, economics, and extension programs at USDA and the adequacy of funding for those programs (click here for details).
FASS Inc. Science Policy Coordination Activities: October
While Congress has been in recess, there has still been a great deal of activity. We have been involved in a variety of activities related to the Farm Bill and USDA plans. We participated in conference calls and webinars related to the Farm Bill and USDA’s plans to move ERS and NIFA. This information was shared with trade media editors and in radio interviews at World Dairy Expo. We spoke at the NIFA Listening session raising concerns about USDA reorganization and providing input on research priorities. We also had an opportunity to provide comments about both at ADSA’s 35th Discover Conference. Scientists and other interested persons are still 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 now and in the future. The following talking points may help:
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 DC area, close to these agencies.
- Interaction with stakeholders is vital to identifying research needs. This is facilitated by being located in the 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 of 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 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 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.
As a reminder, you can check out the FASS SPC Webinar “The Impact and Role of Public Funding in Agriculture and the US Economy” here, scrolling to and clicking on “March–Webinar.” We encourage you to share the link with others who may have an interest in research.
Ken Olson, PhD, PAS,
FASS Science Policy Coordinator
John P. McNamara, PhD
Chair FASS SPC