May, 2019

    June 7, 2019


    USDA’s FY20 Budget
    Action has begun to move the FY 2020 budget forward. We are a long way from a final bill, but the first step has been taken. On June 4, the House Appropriations Committee advanced its FY 2020 Agriculture-FDA-Rural Development spending bill by a vote of 29 to 21. As expected, it largely rejects cuts in research and other areas proposed by the Administration. The bill provides a total of $1.394B for the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in FY 2020. This includes $50M for deferred maintenance of existing facilities and funding for the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF). It is our understanding that the Committee provides $92.8M for NBAF, or the same as the President’s budget request. For NIFA Research and Education Activities, the Committee provided an appropriation of $1.018B for FY 2020. The Committee strongly opposed USDA’s proposal to relocate NIFA and provided no funding for such relocation activities.

    Also of note, the report includes language regarding research priority setting, ARS staff vacancies, and NBAF’s strategic plans:

    • The Committee recognizes that many research goals constitute a moving target and research objectives may change from year to year. The Committee is interested in understanding what research programs ARS has determined are mature and what research programs are the highest priority of the agency. The Committee directs ARS to provide a brief to the Committee on its ongoing efforts to assess and prioritize research across all of its ongoing programs. This will help the Committee direct resources to the most impactful programs in the future. The Committee does not accept the President’s budget request regarding the reduction or termination of extramural research and expects that extramural research be funded at no less than the FY 2019 levels. In addition, the Committee does not accept the proposed termination of research programs or closure of research locations.
    • The Committee directs ARS to explore ways in which its labs could be better utilized, in cooperation with non-profits, consortiums, and land-grant universities, to achieve new scientific goals that benefit the nation’s food and agriculture system. In addition, the Committee encourages ARS to work with the entities listed above to develop a smart agriculture industry technology roadmap. This research strategy can help guide the future development of technology in the agriculture industry and maintain US leadership.
    • The Committee notes that NBAF is approaching construction completion and that there are remaining transition and operational capability actions necessary before full operational capability can occur. While the Committee understands that the current research programs at APHIS and ARS will be moved into NBAF once the full transition from the Plum Island Animal Disease Center is complete, the Committee is not yet aware of how USDA will fill out the rest of NBAF with other ongoing or new research activities and any associated outyear costs. Therefore, USDA shall submit to the Committees a ten-year strategic plan that describes the annual projected research and operations costs associated with full utilization of the NBAF facility. The plan should include a discussion of how USDA will utilize all available lab space, what ongoing research programs will grow, future research priorities that will be housed in NBAF, and the associated annual costs of each activity.

    The draft bill and related documents are available on the Appropriations Committee website. The House may take action soon, but it is uncertain when the Senate may act. It is helpful to remind Senators of the value and importance of agricultural research to both producers and consumers.

    ERS and NIFA Relocations
    The USDA’s effort to move NIFA and ERS personnel out of the Capitol Region and to move ERS from the REE Mission Area to be under the office of the Chief Economist continues, in spite of concerns from Congress and the scientific community. The Appropriation Committee’s report said the department did not provide the documentation requested with the FY19 budget and moved ahead with a Federal Register notice seven days after notifying the House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations subcommittees rather than waiting 30 days as required. The notice requested expressions of interest from universities, state agencies, commercial real estate firms, and others. Ernst & Young, a professional services company hired by the USDA, whittled down 136 expressions of interest to three finalists and two backup sites.

    The report said “(USDA) has flatly refused numerous requests from this Committee and other members of Congress to provide the initial cost-benefit analysis that preceded the decision to go ahead with the proposal.” As a result, the Committee included language in the bill designed to prevent it.

    The House Ag Committee is also raising concerns. The opening remarks of Committee Chair Plaskett at the Subcommittee Hearing on Examining the Impacts of Relocating USDA Research Agencies on Agriculture Research are available here.

    Other reports say that USDA will shortly name the final location and begin the move, despite widespread concerns about the impact of the move. It is still uncertain what the final result will be.

    Hill Lunch-and-Learn Seminar
    On May 20, Alison Van Eenennaam, PhD, Cooperative Extension Specialist - Animal Biotechnology and Genomics, Department of Animal Science, University of California, Davis, and a member of the FASS Science Policy Committee, presented a “Lunch-and-Learn” seminar in Washington on “The Status of Genome Editing in Food Animals,” identifying opportunities and regulatory challenges for genome editing. Links to a recording of the presentation, a copy of the PowerPoint, the program, including an abstract of the presentation, and a press release with more details are available here.

    FASS Inc. Science Policy Coordination Activities – May 2019

    During the first week in May, the Science Policy Coordinator was in Washington, DC. During that time, he participated in a meeting celebrating five years of activity by the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research (FFAR). He also visited staff members of the House and Senate Ag Committee as well as the House Ag Appropriations and Oversight committee and the House Ag Research Caucus to discuss agriculture research issues, the budget, and USDA reorganization, and to increase recognition of FASS. We have also participated in calls and other communication relative to budget needs, concerns over the Administration's budget proposal, and potential actions relative to USDA’s reorganization plans. The Science Policy Committee is beginning the process of reviewing current policy documents and considering others that may be needed. We are also making plans for the ADSA Annual Meeting and other future activities.

    Please contact me if you have questions, ideas, or suggestions about 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 communicating occasionally with members of Congress on issues related to animal agriculture, we are looking for FASS science policy advocates. Please contact me for details.

    Ken Olson, PhD, PAS
    FASS Science Policy Coordinator