February, 2021

    March 12, 2021


    With a strong bipartisan vote of 92–7, the full Senate voted on February 23 to confirm Thomas J. Vilsack as secretary of agriculture. Vilsack comes in with a wealth of experience, having served in the same position for eight years in the Obama administration. He is a former governor of Iowa and most recently served as president and CEO of the US Dairy Export Council.

    The Senate is now moving other confirmations forward and completing hearings on the Capitol riots and the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package. COVID-19 relief was rolled into the budget reconciliation, allowing it to pass on a party-line vote. The Senate made a number of changes to the House version, so it will now need to be passed again by the House before going to President Biden for his signature. One area not yet addressed is recovery funds for research projects.

    The fiscal year 2022 (FY22) budget is now beginning to be developed. Members of Congress are currently requesting input, with most having mid- to late-March deadlines. The administration's proposal is expected in late March as well. The confirmation of Secretary Vilsack will facilitate movement of the administration's agriculture budget. Although no administration's budget proposal has ever been adopted as is, it provides a starting point for negotiations. COVID-19 relief, climate change, and immigration reform have been identified as priorities for the Biden administration and Congress. In developing budget and research proposals, it is useful to keep that in mind.

    Biden Names New White House Agriculture Advisor – The White House recently announced that Kelliann Blazek will serve as special assistant to the president for agriculture and rural policy. Blazek most recently served as the first director of Wisconsin's Office of Rural Prosperity, which was created by Governor Tony Evers in 2020 to support the state's rural communities. Previously, Blazek worked as counsel to Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D; ME-1) and taught food law and policy at the Antonin Scalia Law School. She has also worked at the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Blazek holds a JD degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School and grew up on her family's farm in Wisconsin.

    House Ag Committee – Congressman David Scott (D; GA) was approved by the Democratic Caucus to serve as the first African American chair of the House Agriculture Committee. Glenn “GT” Thompson (R; PA) serves as ranking member. The committee includes 25 Democrats and 23 Republicans. Committee membership is available on https://agriculture.house.gov/about/members.htm.

    Following the House Agriculture Committee's Democratic Caucus organizational meeting, Chair David Scott announced the election of the chairs of the committee's six subcommittees:

    • Jim Costa (D; CA) will chair the subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture
    • Abigail Spanberger (D; VA) will chair the subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry
    • Jahana Hayes (D; CT) will chair the subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight and Department Operations
    • Antonio Delgado (D; NY) will chair the subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit
    • Cheri Bustos (D; IL) will chair the subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management
    • Stacey Plaskett (D; VI) will chair the subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research

    The House Appropriations Committee is chaired by Rosa DeLauro (D; CT), and the ranking member is Kay Granger (R; TX). There are 27 Democrats and 26 Republicans on the committee. A full membership list is at https://appropriations.house.gov/about/membership. The subcommittee that is likely of greatest interest is the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies subcommittee, chaired by Sanford Bishop Jr. (D; GA).

    The Senate Agriculture Committee is chaired by Debbie Stabenow (D; MI), and the ranking member is John Boozman (R; AR). There are 11 Democrats and 11 Republicans on the committee. The full list of members is available at https://www.agriculture.senate.gov/about/membership.

    The Senate Appropriations Committee is chaired by Patrick Leahy (D; VT), and vice chair is Richard Shelby (R; AL). There are 15 Democrats and 15 Republicans on the committee. One subcommittee of special interest is Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies, which is chaired by Tammy Baldwin (D; WI). The full list of members is available at https://www.appropriations.senate.gov/about/members.

    FASS Joins Coalition Letters and Provides Comments

    As noted above, work is beginning to move forward on the FY22 budget, so it is time to identify and share funding needs with members of Congress who will develop and approve the federal budget. FASS works frequently with other science-based groups in advocating for funding for agricultural research and the use of the results of that research in policy and regulation development. Two coalition letters were recently joined and comments provided on one proposed regulatory change.

    • FASS joined 47 other entities including universities and science-based organizations in requesting full funding for the Agriculture Advanced Research and Development Authority (AgARDA), that was authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill. (March 1, 2021)
    • FASS joined 138 other entities including scientific societies, universities, producer groups, and other science-based organizations in congratulating Thomas J. Vilsack on his confirmation as secretary of agriculture and urging him to continue supporting increased public investments in agricultural research and development (R&D) programs. (March 1, 2021)
    • FASS provided comments to the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) on the “Regulation of the Movement of Animals Modified or Developed by Genetic Engineering.” The FASS comments called for the harmonization of the US regulatory approach to genome editing in food-producing species so that both plant and animal breeders have access to genome editing innovations. (February 26, 2021)

    You can find copies of these documents and previous ones in the Science Policy area of the FASS website. Additional letters will be added as the budget efforts move forward. Click here for the letters.

    The “Friends of ARS” met recently to begin developing positions related to the FY22 budget. The coalition again plans to push for a 5% increase in research funding over existing levels. Other items that of note for the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) include the handling the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) expenses and the status of COVID-19 recovery funds for research projects. Operational expenses at NBAF were initially largely a part of the Department of Homeland Security budget and identified in a line item. The operational responsibility is being moved to the USDA, and we want to ensure that the funding comes with it. COVID-19 relief has been provided in several bills, but none has addressed research. The preference would be to handle recovery funds under a COVID-19 package, but if this continues to be ignored, it may be addressed in the budget.

    New Study Sounds Alarm About Agriculture School Infrastructure

    Washington, DC - The Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) recently released a comprehensive study that found there is a collective total of nearly $11.5 billion in needed repairs and renovations at the buildings and supporting facilities at schools of agriculture authorized to receive USDA research funding. The study was conducted for APLU by Gordian, a leader in facility and construction cost data, software, and expertise. The study notes that 69% of the buildings at these schools (97 land-grant universities in total) are more than 25 years old and require urgent upgrades to remain safe and useful. Without action, the declining state of these facilities threatens to hinder critical research on food safety and security, natural resources, climate change, and other key matters.

    [Read the Report: A National Study of Capital Infrastructure at Colleges and Schools of Agriculture]

    Please contact me if you have questions, ideas, or suggestions on any of these or other policy 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 serving on the Science Policy Committee or 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