April 15, 2020
As everyone is aware, the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting life everywhere, including Washington, DC. It will take a long time to return to some semblance of normality and it is unclear what the long-term impacts will be for our lives, the way we interact and do business, the way government operates, and what funding will be available for research, given the massive amount of federal funds going toward the recovery effort. While there is much uncertainty, we continue to work toward a budget that supports research. One message that we can share with Congress and the public is that research will be critical to long-term recovery efforts.
The $2+ trillion COVID-19 response and recovery legislation currently overshadows FY21 budget action, but that action is still taking place. FASS is active in several coalitions that are advocating for agricultural research and research funding. FASS has joined in signing several letters and more will come. You can find copies of letters in the FASS Science Policy section of www.fass.org. FASS is a member of the National Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research (NCFAR) and supported testimony presented to the House Appropriations Committee that summarizes the basic “asks” of the coalition letters. The testimony states
“The National Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research (NCFAR) strongly supports increased federal investment in food and agricultural research, extension and education in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Research, Education, and Economics (REE) mission in fiscal year 2021 (FY21) through intramural and extramural programs, as follows:
- Agricultural Research Service (ARS), at least $1,789 million
- Economic Research Service (ERS), at least $87 million
- National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), at least $180 million
- National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), at least $1,721 million
The requested increase for NIFA budget should be provided to NIFA leadership, with suggested allocations of increases to specific programs, including:
- Hatch Act (Research and Education Programs), at least $280 million
- Smith-Lever (Extension Activities), at least $341 million
- Evans-Allen (Research and Education Programs), at least $73 million
- 1890 Extension (Extension Activities), at least $62 million
- McIntyre-Stennis (Research and Extension Programs), at least $39 million
- Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), at least $480 million
- Research Grants for 1994 Institutions, at least $5.8 million
- Extension Services for 1994 Institutions, at least $9 million
NCFAR supports at least level funding from FY20 enacted for other NIFA programs, and encourages proportionate increases where possible.”
A copy of the testimony is included on the FASS Science Policy site.
These efforts are making a difference as bipartisan support in Congress is growing. Congressional Ag Research Caucus co-chairs Rodney Davis (R-IL) and Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) are leading a “Dear Colleague” letter to the Appropriations Committee, calling for increased funding for research. At least 143 members have signed it. Senator Durbin (D-IL) is leading a “Dear Colleague” letter calling for 5% annual increases in research funding. Both letters would welcome more signees, so if your member of Congress has not yet signed, this would be a good time to ask them to do so.
The $2+ trillion committed to recovery from the pandemic will affect many areas for individuals and institutions. Although some funds for education are included in the package, it is still unclear how colleges, universities, and research projects may be covered under action that has been taken. Before the extent of the pandemic was known, USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) asked for input on how they might better serve stakeholders. The FASS Science Policy Committee shared the following concerns about the current situation:
- We would first note that we were generally pleased with the contact and responsiveness of USDA NIFA in the past. The reorganization undertaken by the administration in moving the NIFA offices out of the DC area is causing significant problems due to loss of staff and institutional knowledge. Problems are occurring relative to timelines for submitting proposals, reviewing proposals that are submitted, receiving information on the status of proposals, and initiating projects that are approved. This makes it extremely difficult to manage projects and conduct the research that is planned and needed. It was not a problem in the past, but it is now.
- 2. Current "stay at home" directives are necessary but are bringing research to a halt. Animals need to be fed and cared for even when research cannot be done. Lab staff need to be supported so that they will be available and can resume work on the research once the crisis is over. Are, or can, research projects be included in any of the funding bills that have recently passed Congress? Much like any other small business, research projects have ongoing costs to maintain their infrastructure and staff so that research can resume after the crisis passes. We recognize that no-cost extensions may be offered for projects, but that does not normally cover the added expenses incurred during the current shutdown and puts project completion at risk. These concerns are not limited to the animal or production side, but exist on the food side as well. It is critical that staff, samples, and equipment be maintained and available so that critical research can be resumed as quickly and seamlessly as possible.
NCFAR Research Outreach Committee and Board Meet
The Research Outreach Committee and the NCFAR board met via conference call. Both meetings focused on impacts of COVID-19 on organization programs. The Hill Seminar series is one of the best known and most successful NCFAR programs. Current meeting and travel restrictions will require postponing or rescheduling seminars now set for May and June. Dates for other approved seminars will not be determined until the situation is clearer for July and September. The option of scheduling some seminars via webinar was discussed. This option will be evaluated in the coming weeks and may be used if it is determined that in-person Hill seminars are not possible. The Ag Research Exhibition is being postponed until September. In light of current conditions, the NCFAR board is looking at future directions for the organization to determine how we can most effectively fulfill our mission. A committee was established that will report back the board on options. The current crisis has affected membership retention, and recruiting efforts will be expanded. Individual, institution, state, and national membership options are available.
The FASS Science Policy Committee met on March 30 and will meet again on April 23. 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 agriculture research as the FY21 budget moves forward. As elections approach, take time to learn more about the 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