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Senate Committee Seeks Answers from USDA on ERS/NIFA Plans

On September 7, the bipartisan leadership of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue with a list of questions about the Department’s plans to move the Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) out of the Washington, DC area and to realign ERS with the Office of the Chief Economist (see COSSA’s previous coverage). In the letter, Committee Chair Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) cite stakeholders’ concerns that the moves will lead to a “sharp loss of knowledgeable staff” and “erode critical partnerships with other federal agencies who are engaged in interdisciplinary research.” The letter asks for more detail from USDA on the motivation and rationale for the decision, the Department’s plans to execute the moves, and the legal authority underlying USDA’s ability to realign ERS. While no bipartisan action has been taken in the House, Democrats have expressed concerns about the proposal, including Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), and the Democrats on the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. A number of concerned stakeholder groups will hold a webinar with former USDA officials on Thursday, September 20.

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Posted in Issue 18 (September 18), Update, Volume 37 (2018)

USDA Announces Plans to Move NIFA and ERS out of DC, Realign ERS with Chief Economist

In August, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it plans to move two science agencies, the Economic Research Service (ERS) (one of USDA’s two principal statistical agencies) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) (USDA’s main extramural research agency), out of the Washington, D.C. region. USDA cited high attrition rates at these agencies as justification for moving them out of the region, although no data was provided. The Department also plans to administratively realign ERS from its current place within the Research, Education, and Economics (REE) mission area to the Office of the Chief Economist, citing their “similar missions,” although ERS is an official statistical agency bound by a set of directives and standards, while the Office of the Chief Economist primarily serves a policy-focused role. ERS’ longtime administrator, Mary Bohman, was reassigned ahead of this announcement.

The announcement has raised concerns for many in the science community. The move outside the D.C. area would almost certainly lead to a loss of highly specialized, expert staff at both agencies, and many are skeptical of the Department’s argument that retention is a problem for these agencies (both of which had been operating under a long-term hiring freeze). In addition, moving ERS from the research and data arm of USDA (which also includes ERS’s sister statistical agency, the National Agricultural Statistics Service) to a policy-focused area of the Department raises concerns about the agency’s ability to safeguard the independence of its data and findings.

USDA plans to proceed with these moves without Congressional or stakeholder approval. A Federal Register notice asking jurisdictions to volunteer to host one or both agencies (the deadline is September 14), but no other public feedback was requested. The Department expects the move to be completed by the end of 2019. COSSA has joined two letters (available here and here) asking Congress to intervene to stop USDA from moving ERS (a letter focused on NIFA is forthcoming).

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Posted in Issue 17 (September 4), Update, Volume 37 (2018)

House and Senate Committees Approve FY 2019 Agriculture Funding

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have approved their fiscal year (FY) 2019 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bills. This bill contains funding for the two U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistical agencies, the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), as well as the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which funds competitive research projects. The House bill (H.R. 5961) was approved by the subcommittee on May 9 and by the full committee on May 16. The Senate version of the bill, which does not yet have a bill number, was passed by the subcommittee on May 22 and by the full committee on May 24.

At a Glance…

  •  Both the House and Senate bills would maintain flat funding for ERS at $86.8 million, rejecting the nearly 50 percent cut proposed in the President’s request.
  • Both the House and Senate propose decreases for the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) as it ramps down from the 2017 Census of Agriculture; the House proposal of $173.7 million is $1.1 million below the Senate’s proposed $174.8 million. However, both levels are higher than the amount proposed in the President’s request.
  • The House bill would provide $1.45 billion for NIFA, which is 2.8 percent above FY 2018. The Senate bill includes $1.42 billion, an increase of 1.1 percent. Both chambers propose increases for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, with the House proposing a larger increase than the Senate.

The next step for both bills is consideration by their respective chambers. Both the House and Senate leadership have expressed a commitment to trying to pass at least some of the FY 2019 appropriations bills before the start of the new fiscal year on October 1. However, with August recess and the peak of campaign season quickly approaching, it remains to be seen which bills will be passed and when.

Read on for COSSA’s analysis of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees’ proposals for the Economic Research Service, National Agricultural Statistics Service, and National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

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Posted in Issue 11 (May 29), Update, Volume 37 (2018)

House Appropriations Subcommittees Begin Marking Up Spending Legislation

The House Appropriations Subcommittees on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) and Agriculture and Rural Development (Ag) hosted markups last week on drafts of their fiscal year (FY) 2019 spending bills. The CJS bill, which is responsible for funding the Census, the Department of Justice, and federal science agencies, among other programs, includes $8.2 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF), a $408 million increase above the FY 2018 enacted amount. The Ag bill, which includes funding for the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, does not endorse the large cut to the Economic Research Service (ERS) proposed in the President’s FY 2019 budget request. Full details of the committee’s spending recommendations are not yet public, but COSSA will provide complete analysis of the spending bills as language is made available. Stay tuned to COSSA’s coverage here. Both bills are scheduled to be considered by the full Appropriations Committee later this week.

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Posted in Issue 10 (May 15), Update, Volume 37 (2018)

NIFA Introduces New Behavioral Science Grants Program

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced a new grant program, Behavioral and Experimental Economic Applications for Agri-Environmental Policy Design, within the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Foundational Agriculture Economics and Rural Communities program. The new program is jointly funded with the USDA’s Economic Research Service. For its first round, the new program plans to offer two grants, totaling $500,000 to help “pinpoint motivators that drive farmers to adopt conservation practices and identify the roadblocks that may get in the way.”

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Posted in Issue 5 (March 7), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

Senate Appropriations Committee Approves FY 2017 Agriculture Bill

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved its fiscal year (FY) 2017 spending bill for the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies (S. 2956) on May 19 (the bill had marked up in the Subcommittee earlier in the week). The House passed its version of the legislation (H.R. 5054) in April. So far, neither chamber has scheduled the Agriculture appropriations bill for floor consideration, although given that they are relatively uncontroversial, it would not be surprising to see votes on the floor before the summer recess.

The Senate bill would provide the Economic Research Service (ERS) with $86.8 million and the National Agricultural Statistics Service with $169.6 million. These numbers are both slight increases over FY 2016 and the House proposal, but below the Administration’s request. The bill includes $1.4 billion for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The House, Senate, and Administration have all recommended a $25 million increase (+7.1%) for NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).

Read on for the Senate Appropriations Committee’s proposals for Economic Research Service, the National Agricultural Statistics Service, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The Committee’s full report can be found here, and audio from the markup is posted on the Committee website.

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Posted in Issue 11 (May 31), Update, Volume 35 (2016)

House Agriculture Appropriations Bill Passes Appropriations Committee

The House Appropriations Committee has released its draft bill and Committee Report for the fiscal year (FY) 2017 funding for the Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies. The bill passed the Subcommittee by on April 13 and the full Commtitee on April 19. A list of amendments adopted during the full committee markup is available here (none affect the research and science agencies funded by the bill). Details on the bill’s proposed funding for the Department of Agriculture (USDA) agencies important to the social and behavioral sciences follow.

Overall, the bill provides flat funding or very modest increases to USDA research and science agencies. The Economic Research Service (ERS), one of the Department of Agriculture’s two statistical agencies, would receive $86 million, or 0.7 percent above FY 2016 but 5.8 percent below the Administration’s request. The entirety of the $627,000 increase is directed for cooperative agreements on groundwater modeling and drought resilience. The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) would receive flat funding at $168.4 million, $8.2 million below the amount requested by the President. The Census of Agriculture, which NASS will conduct in 2017, would see a cut of $306,000.

The bill would provide the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) with a $14.7 million increase over FY 2017, bringing it to a total of $1.3 billion, though the amount is $32.9 million below the Administration’s requested level. Expectedly, appropriators chose to reject the President’s proposal to double funding for USDA’s premiere competitive grants program, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), using a combination of discretionary and mandatory funds. However, the bill would give AFRI a $25 million increase above FY 2016—bringing it to $375 million—which is level with the discretionary amount proposed in the budget request. Funding for research at State Agricultural Experiment Stations under the Hatch Act would remain flat.

The Committee report includes the following language related to AFRI-funded research on childhood obesity:

“Within the funds made available for AFRI, the Committee encourages NIFA to support innovative efforts to address the unique challenges faced in addressing childhood obesity through a combination of family education and clinical studies focused on early life influences on obesity risk; the development of eating behavior during infancy and early childhood; the role of sleep in the development of childhood obesity; and obesity prevention strategies for low-income children in childcare and educational settings.”

The report also instructs NIFA to develop a plan for ensuring AFRI research meets the needs of the U.S. organic agriculture sector and is not duplicative of other efforts; to support research, development, education, and training related to the deployment of unmanned aircraft systems (i.e. drones) for improved agriculture and environmental stewardship; and to ensure it is adequately addressing the research needs of urban agriculture producers.

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Posted in Issue 8 (April 19), Update, Volume 35 (2016)

Analysis of the FY 2016 Omnibus Appropriations Bill and Implications for Social and Behavioral Science Research

On December 15, House and Senate negotiators unveiled their final fiscal year (FY) 2016 omnibus appropriations bill, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 (H.R. 2029), which includes all 12 of the individual appropriations bills and totals $1.15 trillion.

Congress passed another short term continuing resolution (CR) on Wednesday to allow enough time for the House and Senate to pass the massive spending bill and for the President to sign it, which he has indicated he would. Policymakers now have until December 22 to achieve final passage. Assuming the House can pass the bill on Friday-which will require the support of several Democrats since many conservative Republicans oppose the final agreement-the FY 2016 process could wrap up by the end of the week, at which time Members of Congress and staff will head home for the holidays, drawing to a close the first session of the 114th Congress. However, at the time of this writing, passage is not assured.

Should the bill pass, the final result for social and behavioral science funding in FY 2016 is positive. Compared to where we were just a few months ago-with major cuts proposed for social science accounts at several agencies-we are closing out the year in a better situation than many anticipated. This outcome can be largely attributed to the bipartisan budget deal that was brokered earlier in the fall, which provided much needed relief from sequestration and the tight discretionary spending caps. In addition, our champions on the Hill worked tirelessly on our behalf during these final negotiations to stave off devastating cuts to many of our programs.

The text of the bill and explanatory statement can be viewed on the House Rules Committee website.

Read on for COSSA’s agency-by-agency analysis of the FY 2016 omnibus.

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Posted in Update, Volume 34 (2015)

USDA Starts Collecting Data on Post-Harvest Food Safety Practices

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), under an agreement with the Economic Research Service (ERS), has begun collecting data on food safety practices from fruit and vegetable packers and processors. The survey, the 2015 Produce Post-Harvest Microbial Food Safety Practices Survey, marks the first time since 1998 that USDA has collected such data. Information from the survey will be used to understand how businesses are implementing the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). In addition, ERS will use the data to document changes in food safety practices, examine costs associated with compliance with the FSMA, and identify areas for future research.

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Posted in Issue 18 (October 6), Update, Volume 34 (2015)

Senate Agriculture Appropriations Bill Advances through Committee

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved its version of the FY 2016 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill (S. 1800) on July 16, after the bill’s approval by the Agriculture Subcommittee earlier in the week. Among the agencies funded in the bill are the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) principal statistical agencies, the Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which houses the Department’s main competitive grants program, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). The House Appropriations Committee passed its version of the bill on July 8 (more on the House bill is available here).

In general, the Senate bill would provide more funding to agencies of interest to the social and behavioral science community than the House bill. However, the Committee’s adherence to current spending caps means that the proposed funding levels still fall below the Administration’s request. The bill would maintain ERS’ FY 2015 funding level of $85.4 million, $7.3 million above the cut proposed by the House. NASS would be cut by $4.3 million compared to FY 2015, but the Senate mark is still $6.9 million more than the House bill. In the committee report, both agencies are encouraged to continue to collect and analyze data on organic agriculture.

Under the Senate bill, NIFA would receive a small increase over FY 2015, but the total falls well short of the Administration’s proposed funding level of $1.5 billion. AFRI would actually receive $10 million less under the Senate’s bill compared to the House version—the same amount as in FY 2015.

Neither bill is likely to reach the floor of either chamber anytime soon as the larger debate over sequestration and spending caps has stalled the FY 2016 process and likely will not be resolved until later in the fall at the earliest.

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Posted in Issue 14 (July 28), Update, Volume 34 (2015)

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