February 5, 2019
The big news for January was that, after 35 days, the longest government shutdown in history ended when President Trump signed a continuing resolution that funds—until February 15—the agencies that have been closed. This means that the USDA and other agencies that have been closed are rushing to open and resume operations. A major concern is whether an agreement can be reached on funding before the deadline, which is now less than two weeks away. Without agreement, another shutdown may occur.
USDA Leadership Position Update
On January 28, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue named three individuals to senior leadership positions at the USDA. Perdue named Dr. Mindy Brashears as deputy undersecretary for food safety, Naomi Earp as deputy assistant secretary for civil rights, and Dr. Scott Hutchins as deputy undersecretary for research, education, and economics. These positions do not require Senate confirmation. The three were previously nominated by President Trump for Senate-confirmed positions at the USDA. The Senate Agriculture Committee had favorably reported all three nominees for approval by the full Senate, but their nominations expired without receiving confirmation votes at the end of the 115th Congress.
The president has since resubmitted their nominations to the Senate in the 116th Congress. While in their deputy roles as selected by Perdue, they will not be serving in “acting” capacities for the positions for which they have been nominated. As a result, they will not be able to exercise the functions or powers expressly delegated to the Senate-confirmed positions. As deputy undersecretary for research, education, and economics, Dr. Hutchins will oversee the Office of the Chief Scientist, with Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young continuing to serve as acting chief scientist. It is hoped that the Senate will act quickly on the nominations.
House Committee Updates
Congress is back in session and beginning its work. One of the first steps is identifying members of each of the committees. Two committees of special interest to research are the Agriculture Committee and the Appropriations Committee. The following new Democratic members have been named to the House Ag Committee: Reps. Cindy Axne (Iowa), Anthony Brindisi (N.Y.), Salud Carbajal (Calif.), T. J. Cox (Calif.), Angie Craig (Minn.), Antonio Delgado (N.Y.), Josh Harder (Calif.), Jahana Hayes (Conn.), Ann Kirkpatrick (Ariz.), Chellie Pingree (Maine), Kim Schrier (Wash.), Abigail Spanberger (Va.), and Jeff Van Drew (N.J.).
The GOP lineup includes three new members: Dusty Johnson (S.D.), Jim Baird (Ind.), and Jim Hagedorn (Minn.). It should be noted that the GOP list also has some notable absences. Former chair Frank Lucas (Okla.) will no longer serve on the panel, and neither will senior members Bob Gibbs (Ohio) and Mike Rogers (Ala.), who is now the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee. Steve King (Iowa) lost his House Ag seat (and other committee assignments) after his remarks on white supremacy. Completing the organizational structure, Agriculture Committee Chair Collin Peterson (Minn.) has announced the election of the chairs of the six House agriculture subcommittees:
- David Scott (Ga.) will chair the subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy and Credit;
- Jim Costa (Calif.) will chair the subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture;
- Marcia Fudge (Ohio) will chair the subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight and Department Operations;
- Filemon Vela (Texas.) will chair the subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management;
- Stacey Plaskett (V.I.) will chair the subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research; and
- Abigail Spanberger (Va.) will chair the subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry.
The full committee roster and other committee news are available on the committee website.
Another committee of special interest is the Appropriations Committee. The full roster for the House Appropriations Committee is available here. New additions to the Agriculture-FDA Subcommittee include Barbara Lee (Calif.), Betty McCollum (Minn.), and Henry Cuellar (Texas).
Foster Our Future – cultivate. discover. grow.
If we are to secure funding for the future, it is important to provide the public and congressional decision makers with information on the value of agricultural research, as well as demonstrations of the impact it will have on people and the environment. As one part of this effort, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) is hosting the inaugural Foster Our Future – cultivate. discover. grow. This is a first-of-a-kind event in Washington, DC, and is being held on February 5. This exciting food and agriculture event is designed to
- Demonstrate game-changing research technology and innovation,
- Inspire by bringing scientific breakthroughs to life,
- Celebrate the impact food and agriculture has on consumers and producers,
- Showcase research talent, and
- Highlight the importance of continued research investment.
The event will include both interactive exhibits and inspiring discussions. Attendees will discover how research and science are changing the food and agriculture landscape. Wandering through the exhibits, participants may see, hear, and interact with displays reflective of research that FFAR supports and breakthroughs made by other key players. US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue will be the opening keynote speaker. The American Dairy Science Association and the American Society of Animal Science are among the many sponsors of the event.
Update on USDA-ERS and NIFA Move
Past FASS Science Policy Reports have included information on our work with coalitions relative to USDA’s reorganization plans. We have recommended to USDA that 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.
The efforts are having an impact. Report language from both the House and the Senate raise these concerns and should result in action if the appropriations bill is passed. The Senate language says:
“The bill is concerned about the unknown costs associated with the proposed move of the National Institutes of Food and Agriculture and the Economic Research Service to a new location outside of the National Capital Region. In submitting the fiscal year 2020 budget justification, the Department is directed to include all cost estimates for the proposed move of the two agencies, as well as a detailed analysis of any research benefits of their relocation. There is an expectation that this process will be followed in the future for any other potential proposed agency relocations by the Department.
The bill supports an indefinite delay in the proposed transfer of ERS to the Office of the Chief Economist. At this time, the bill finds it appropriate for ERS to remain under the Research, Education and Economics mission area. The bill takes this position as several questions remain about the merits of the proposed transfer as well as the proposed relocation of ERS outside of the National Capital Region. Insufficient information and justification relating to the reorganization and relocation make moving forward on these proposals premature at this time.”
The House language is almost identical. FASS was among the 58 organizations that sent thank-you letters to leadership of the Agriculture Appropriations subcommittees and a second letter to the full Appropriations Committee leadership. The letters have also been shared with key committee and personal office staff for subcommittee and full committee leaders and with staff for members of the subcommittees. Copies of these and other current letters are on the FASS Website.
FASS Inc. Science Policy Coordination Activities – January 2019
As noted in the last report, I took part in the NC-FAR board meeting and visited Capitol Hill in early January. Later in the month, I participated via conference calls on actions relative to the ERS/NIFA plans. The government shutdown did put a temporary hold on action relative to implementation of the Farm Bill, but we will be watching for developments in this area as the government reopens. We will also encourage action by Congress to prevent another shutdown. If the past shutdown affected your research program, I would be interested in hearing about it so that we can share this information with decision makers.
Please contact me if you have questions, ideas, or suggestions on any of these issues. We will provide additional information as it becomes available. We need to work together to maintain a strong and effective national research effort.
If you are interested in science policy and being an advocate for agricultural science, the FASS Science Policy Committee is looking for you. We currently have openings for a couple of additional members on the committee. Please contact me for details. If you are interested in communicating occasionally with members of Congress on issues related to animal agriculture, we are also looking for FASS science policy advocates. Again, please contact me for details.
Ken Olson, PhD, PAS
FASS Science Policy Coordinator