October, 2020

    November 20, 2020

     

    DC Update
    The November election, which took place in the middle of the pandemic, has been the major focus in the policy area in recent months, as it will shape the country's direction for at least the next four years. It was a bitter battle with major partisan divides. Hopefully, the nation will come together and find a positive path forward. There are still some unknowns, but the following is a look at where things stand about two weeks after the election.

    Election Results
    Presidency: Joe Biden will be the 46th president of the United States after a hard-fought but significant win. The popular vote margin is currently over 5.8 million votes, and, based on votes in each state, he will win the electoral college 306 to 232. For comparison, in the 2016 election, President Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million votes but won the electoral college 306 to 232. The Trump campaign has filed multiple lawsuits challenging this year's results in several states; most have been resolved, and no remaining ones are expected to affect the results.

    In order to officially start the transition process, federal law states that the General Services Administration (GSA) administrator must first issue a letter of "ascertainment," determining the likely winner of the race. The move is essentially a formal recognition by the current administration that a new president has been elected and a transition will occur. When this is done, the GSA provides a presidential transition team with Washington office space and coordinates access to federal agencies to plan potential policy changes with current administration officials, using $6.3 million allocated to support its efforts. This is not yet occurring because the GSA administrator has not yet taken the required action. Of note, there are about 4,000 political appointments to be made across all agencies, so access to the agencies is important for this and in coordinating action moving forward.

    House: Democrats retain control of the House but with a reduced margin. The exact margin is uncertain, as several races are still too close to call. The House is now back in session, although it is uncertain what action may be taken in the remainder of the session. There are some legal and legislative reasons to officially remain in session, so the House is likely to do so until the new Congress is in place. There will be leadership changes in the new Congress. One of note is that the chair of the House Ag Committee, Collin Peterson (MN-7), was defeated. It is uncertain who will fill that role in the new Congress, but it will be an important choice.

    Senate: Control of the Senate depends on the results of the two Senate runoff elections in Georgia that will take place on January 5. If a GOP candidate wins at least one seat, the GOP will control the Senate, with Senator McConnell likely remaining majority leader. This will affect action on nominations and any possible legislation. The majority leader controls that calendar and decided what nominations or legislation comes to the floor for action. If the Democrats were to win both seats, they would control the Senate as there would be a 50-50 tie, with the vice president breaking any tie. The results are likely to make a significant difference in what could be done over at least the next two years. It should also be noted that Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, the current chair of the Ag Committee, retired, so there will be a change in that leadership position, regardless of which party controls the Senate.

    Looking at the Agencies
    With the transition, there will be changes in leadership at all agencies. At USDA, some of the most frequently mentioned names for Secretary of Agriculture include former North Dakota senator Heidi Heitkamp, current Ohio representative Marcia Fudge, and outgoing House Ag Committee chair Collin Peterson from Minnesota. The various undersecretary and deputy undersecretary positions will also be filled in addition to the position of chief scientist. Further down the organizational chart, many individuals are in "acting" roles, such as the acting director of NIFA, so there may be additional changes that would not necessarily occur if the positions had been filled.

    Transition Action: Agency Review Team-USDA
    Agency review teams are appointed as part of the normal transition process. They are responsible for understanding the current operations of each agency, ensuring a smooth transfer of power, and preparing for the president-elect and vice president-elect and their cabinet to hit the ground running on day 1 of the new administration. Thirty-nine review teams have been established. The Presidential Transition Act requires presidential transitions to disclose the "most recent employment" and "sources of funding" for all agency review team members. The USDA team will also review the Farm Credit Administration and the Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation. The following are the USDA team members:

    Name

    Most Recent Employment

    Source of Funding

    Robert Bonnie, Team Lead

    Duke University, Bipartisan Policy Center

    Volunteer

    Nicholas Anthis

    University of California

    Volunteer

    Sanah Baig

    The Good Food Institute

    Volunteer

    Brooke Barron

    Office of the Speaker, Maine State legislature

    Volunteer

    Kumar Chandran

    FoodCorps

    Volunteer

    Jonathan Coppess

    The University of Illinois

    Volunteer

    Andrea Delgado

    UFW Foundation

    Volunteer

    Debra Eschmeyer

    Arizona State University

    Volunteer

    Meryl Harrell

    Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards

    Volunteer

    LaQuita Honeysucker

    The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union

    Volunteer

    John Padalino

    Bandera Electric Cooperative Inc.

    Volunteer

    Gregory Parham

    United States Department of Agriculture (Retired)

    Volunteer

    Lisa Pino

    State of New York, Department of Health

    Volunteer

    Amy Pitelka

    Barker Pitelka PLLC

    Volunteer

    Jeffrey Prieto

    Los Angeles Community College District

    Volunteer

    Audrey Rowe

    Self-employed

    Volunteer

    Corey Then

    Moneta Group

    Volunteer

    For more details, visit https://buildbackbetter.com/the-transition/agency-review-teams/.

    Many groups are in contact with the incoming administration to advocate for areas of interest. A letter is going to the incoming Biden Administration from the National Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research (NC-FAR), which FASS is a part of, to begin communications and highlight the value of agriculture research and the need for funding.

    Needed legislative action: Although there are few legislative days remaining for the current Congress, several items need attention:

    FY21 budget: The current continuing resolution (CR) that funds most agencies expires on December 11, 2020. Some form of action is needed by then to avoid a government shutdown. The House passed their funding bills several months ago. The Senate Committee on Appropriations released all 12 of its fiscal year 2021 (FY21) funding measures on November 10, along with the FY21 subcommittee allocations. Although funding levels for agriculture are similar in both the House and Senate versions, they are unlikely to move, because no action is scheduled in the Senate on their marks. To move forward, they would need to be passed by the Senate, conferenced with the House, and signed by the president. The most likely scenario is passage of another CR, probably for two months to extend beyond the inauguration so a new Congress and Administration will need to deal with them.

    COVID Relief: There appears to be wide agreement that additional assistance is needed in many areas, but it is unlikely to happen until next year, when the new Congress and Administration can act on it.

    Customs and Border Protection (CBP): FASS was part of a coalition effort to contact legislators about funding for CBP. This resulted in a letter to appropriators from more than 60 members of Congress supporting funding for CBP, but, as with all other funding measures, it is on hold. The most likely avenue is inclusion in the next COVID relief package, whenever that may come.

    CAST Communication Webinar
    Borlaug CAST Communication Award (BCCA) Panel- Current State and Future Role of Science Communication in Food and Agriculture: The CAST annual meeting featured a panel of current and past Borlaug CAST Communications Award winners (Alexa Lamm, 2020; Alison Van Eenennaam, 2014; Kevin Folta, 2016; Jayson Lusk, 2017) discussing this important topic. FASS Science Policy Committee (SPC) member Alison Van Eenennaam was part of the panel. You can find a video of this interesting session on You Tube at 2020 Annual Meeting - BCCA Winners Science Communications Panel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbQh6JPuiY0).

    FASS SPC Actions
    The FASS SPC met recently via a Zoom call. The committee is in the process of reviewing and updating all of the FASS Science Policy Statements. A new statement on "Regulation of Food Made from Genome Editing" and a revised statement on "Labeling of Foods Made from Genetically Engineered (GE) Organisms" have recently been added to the list of statements that are on the www.FASS.org website. During the last virtual meeting of the committee, plans were made to share current policy statements with the Biden USDA Transition Review team and with key individuals within USDA as they become known. Additional follow-up will be planned as more of the statements are updated. The SPC will be hosting a symposium during the 2021 ADSA Annual Meeting that will focus on how scientists can most effectively communicate with Congress and the USDA to advance the funding and use of animal agriculture research. The committee will next meet in mid-December.

    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
    keolson@prodigy.net
    https://www.fass.org/Science-Policy