The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to affect life everywhere, including Washington, DC. In less than two months, more Americans have died from the virus than were killed in the Vietnam War and the end is nowhere in sight. Congress has allocated trillions of dollars in efforts to enable health officials to limit spread of the disease and its economic impact, but with no coordinated plan apparent, it is unclear how effective these efforts will be. It is obvious that it will take a long time to return to some semblance of normality and it is unclear what the long-term impacts will be on our lives; on the ways we interact and do business; and on the ways that government, schools, colleges, and universities operate. It is unclear what funding will be available for research in the near future, given the massive amount of federal funds going toward the recovery effort. Despite the uncertainty, we continue to work for a budget that supports research and education as well as policies that use the results. One message that we can confidently share with Congress and the public is that research will be critical to long-term recovery efforts. Here are a few things happening that will be having an impact in the days ahead.
Seeking Advocates for Science
The FASS Science Policy Committee (SPC) is made up of animal scientists with expertise in multiple species and disciplines. It serves as a leading authority on food animal science research and application and as a respected source of rigorous, peer-reviewed science to policymakers worldwide. The FASS SPC advocates for science-based policy making and increased animal agriculture research funding, and it highlights the value and importance of animal science and animal scientists in ensuring humane, sustainable, and safe animal food production to Congress, government agencies, and the public.
We are currently looking for animal scientists with an interest in public policy to become volunteer members of the SPC. We seek to ensure that the members of the committee represent a diversity of species, disciplinary expertise, and food animal products/processing. The SPC meets and communicates primarily by conference call and email. Committee appointments are for three years with an option to renew for a second term. You can learn more about the SPC and its work here.
If you have additional questions or are interested in becoming a member of the SPC and an advocate for agricultural research, please contact Dr. Ken Olson, FASS Science Policy Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Dr. Jim Quigley, FASS SPC Chair, email@example.com.
Director of National Institute of Food and Agriculture to Become VP at the University of Florida
On May 4, the USDA announced that the director of National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Dr. J. Scott Angle, had accepted an offer to become the Vice President for the University of Florida College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in Gainesville, Florida. He will assume this role in July 2020. The USDA will appoint an acting director, who will be based in Washington, DC, and will serve following Dr. Angle's departure. USDA said that, "the National Institute of Food and Agriculture's (NIFA) leadership team will work closely with Dr. Angle to plan for the Agency's transition and ensure operations will continue seamlessly without affecting mission continuity. Dr. Angle has been a steady hand and visible leader for NIFA since being sworn in by Secretary Perdue on October 29, 2018."
Congressional Research Service Report on USDA Move
FASS has raised concerns about the USDA's plans to relocate NIFA and the Economic Research Service (ERS) from the Washington, DC, area since the plan was initially proposed. On May 1, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) released a report titled "Relocation of the USDA Research Agencies: NIFA and ERS." It does not recommend solutions to problems, but it does define the current situation, describe the problems being experienced, and how the plan was arrived at. The report includes Agency background as well as external and Congressional responses, actions that were taken prior to the move and some of the current impacts. It notes that "As of February 1, 2020—four months after relocation—NIFA had 105 and ERS had 106 (permanent full-time employees). Compared with full staffing levels cited in the CBA (cost-benefit analysis), NIFA and ERS are operating with approximately 33% of their staff." They noted that "Since the relocation, NIFA grantees have experienced delays in receiving awarded funds, which are typically released one to two months after the start of the next fiscal year. A notice to grantees of March 12, 2020, advises that FY2019 capacity and competitive awards may be released by the end of March 2020 and April 2020, respectively (three to five months later than is typical). This notice stated that NIFA did not yet have a timeline for issuing FY2020 awards." FASS has highlighted similar issues and will continue to seek solutions that will work in the future. You can find the full CRS report here.
New NIFA Program Area
NIFA recently added a program area to its main Agricultural and Food Research Initiative (AFRI): RFA: Rapid Response to Novel Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) Impacts Across Food and Agricultural Systems. Last week, NIFA opened its request for applications on research or extension activities that focus on developing and deploying rapid, reliable, and readily adoptable COVID-19 agricultural strategies across the food and agriculture enterprise. Through the AFRI program, NIFA will invest up to $9 million for research in the following areas: health and security of livestock; food and food processing; well-being of farm workforce, food service providers, and rural Americans; and economic security. Applications are due June 4, 2020.
The COVID-19 response and recovery legislation currently overshadow most FY21 budget action. FASS is active in several coalitions with letters to appropriators and other members of Congress advocating for agricultural research and research funding. This is an ongoing effort to ensure that when action is taken, research funding will be part of the conversation. You can find copies of letters in the FASS Science Policy section of the website.
The FASS SPC met on April 23 and will meet again in early June. As noted above we are looking for new committee members as two current members are completing their second terms and will rotate off. The committee is continuing work on updating our Policy Statements. Suggestions for other areas that should be addressed are welcome. We continue to work with coalition partners to actively advocate for agricultural research as the FY21 budget takes shape. As elections approach, take time to learn more about candidates in your state and their positions on science. We need more members of Congress who will support and advocate for the use of science in policy making.
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 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