Blog Archives

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)

NIFA Releases Evaluation of Capacity Funding Mechanism

The Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) recently released a report that measures the effectiveness of NIFA research, education, and extension investments at land-grant colleges and universities (“capacity grants”). The report, Quantitative and Qualitative Review of NIFA Capacity Funding, was prepared by TEConomy Partners, LLC. The report finds that the capacity funding model is able to produce a high return on investment and leverage matching state and local funding for projects. It concludes, “Capacity Funding carries substantial and significant ongoing advantages as an R&D and extension funding model.” The report is available in full on the NIFA website.

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Posted in Issue 7 (April 4), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

Trump Administration Releases Preliminary Details on FY 2018 Budget

On March 16, the Trump Administration released preliminary, high-level details of its fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget request, referred to as a “skinny budget.” Full budget details are expected sometime in May.

There are few surprises in the President’s “safety and security” budget blueprint. Major reductions are proposed for nondefense discretionary programs (including research accounts) in order to finance $54 billion in increases for the Department of Defense. Of course, to achieve such a reallocation, Congress would need to act to adjust the budget caps that are currently governing defense and nondefense discretionary spending; the President cannot unilaterally shift funds from nondefense accounts to defense under current law.

For now, the budget only includes proposals for Cabinet-level departments and a handful of other “major” agencies. For example, it includes preliminary details for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) (which would take a $6 billion hit) but not for the National Science Foundation (NSF). Instead, NSF appears to be lumped in with “Other Agencies,” which collectively would receive a 10 percent cut in FY 2018 (see the chart below). This DOES NOT necessarily mean that NSF is slated for a 10 percent cut; we will have to wait to see the details in May.

Read on for COSSA’s analysis of the FY 2018 proposal as known so far.

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Posted in Issue 6 (March 21), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

State of Play: FY 2017 Funding for Social Science Research

Congress has adjourned for a seven-week recess and will not be returning to work until after Labor Day. Despite promises for a return to “regular order” in the annual appropriations process, we find ourselves in familiar territory with none of the 12 annual spending bills expected to be enacted into law before the new fiscal year begins October 1. In fact, none of the bills that fund research agencies and programs (the Commerce, Justice Science bill and the Labor, HHS, Education bill) have yet to make it to the House or Senate floors for debate.

Upon returning to work in September, Congress will be faced with a full plate of must-pass legislation and a limited number of days before breaking again for the fall elections. Among the countless unknowns surrounding a possible endgame strategy for appropriations is one certainty – the need to pass a stopgap funding measure, known as a continuing resolution (CR), to avoid a government shutdown come October 1. The length of the impending CR, though, is still up for debate. Scenarios range from a CR of a couple of months with final action completed in the December timeframe (forcing a lame duck session of Congress after the November elections), to a six-month-long CR that would delay action until after the new Administration and Congress are sworn in, to possibly a year-long continuing resolution that would fund agencies at the FY 2016 level through the end of next fiscal year. These details will need to be sorted out over the next several weeks, and consensus remains far-off. However, all parties appear equally committed to avoiding a government shutdown.

COSSA has been reporting on the status of the FY 2017 appropriations bills over the last several months. Read on for a recap of progress made to date as it relates to social and behavioral science research. Congress will pick up where it left off when Members return to work in September. Full details on the various bills considered so far can be viewed on the COSSA website.

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Posted in Issue 15 (July 26), 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)

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)

House Agriculture Appropriations Bill Would Cut USDA Research and Statistics

The House Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee advanced its draft bill to the full committee on June 18. A full committee markup originally scheduled for June 25 was postponed. Among the agencies funded in the bill are the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) research and statistical agencies, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the Economic Research Service (ERS), and the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). The Committee Report is available here. COSSA has joined the Friends of Agricultural Statistics and Analysis (FASA), a new coalition of stakeholders who care about timely, accurate, and objective food and agricultural statistics, on several letters to House staff to request stronger appropriations for ERS and NASS.

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture would see a $5.2 million cut from FY 2015, $218.8 million below the President’s request. Hatch Act programs would be flat-funded. NIFA’s investigator-initiated grants program, the Agricultural Food and Research Initiative (AFRI), would receive a $10 million increase from FY 2015, still well below the Administration’s request of $450 million. Language in the Committee Report asks for additional clarity in next year’s budget request on how proposed funds for AFRI would be spent:

“For the fiscal year 2017 budget request, the Committee is particularly interested in the request for AFRI, and requests that the agency provide greater detail on the levels proposed to be allocated to and the expected publication date, scope, and allocation level for each request for awards to be published under each priority area specified in section 2(b)(2) of the Competitive, Special, and Facilities Research Grant Act (7 U.S.C. 450i(b)(2)).”

The USDA’s principal statistical agencies, the Economic Research Service and the National Agricultural Statistical Service, do not fare as well under the House bill. The bill proposes an 8.6% cut for ERS, which would bring its funding down to $78.1 million. NASS would receive an $11.2 million cut from FY 2015, leaving it 10.6% below the level proposed in the President’s budget request. These cuts would likely force both agencies make cuts to their core products and services.


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Posted in Issue 12 (June 30), Update, Volume 34 (2015)

ERS Reports on Fast Food Purchasing Behavior

The Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS) has released a report, “The Role of Time in Fast-Food Purchasing Behavior in the United States,” which examines the factors impacting how Americans consume fast food. The study, conducted using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey, assessed the impact of time-use behaviors, prices, sociodemographic characteristics, and labor-force participation on fast food purchases. It finds that those who purchase fast food on a given day spend less time engaged in “primary” eating (eating while not doing something else), sleeping, doing housework, and watching television than the population average. And while the amount of time Americans spent eating out declined during the Great Recession, the percentage of people who had purchased fast food on a given day remained stable.

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Posted in Issue 22 (December 5), Update, Volume 33 (2014)


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