June 23, 2019

June D.C. Update

Washington Roundup – June 2019

By: Lowell Randel

FY 2020 Agriculture Appropriations Update

On June 4th, the House Appropriations Committee approved its version of the FY 2020 Agriculture Appropriations bill.  The bill includes increases in several major line items for agricultural research.  The overall funding for ARS research is $1.347 billion, which is $44 million above FY 2019.  Overall funding for NIFA is over $120 million more than FY 2019, with increases primarily coming to bigger national programs such as AFRI and capacity programs. 

A summary of key provisions is included below:

ACCOUNT                               FY 2019 – FINAL          FY 2020 President      FY 2020 House           

ARS Salaries and Expenses     $1.303 billion              $1.2 billion                  $1.347 billion

ARS Buildings and Facilities    $381 million                $50 million                  $50 million

Hatch                                      $259 million                $243 million                $265 million

AFRI                                         $415 million                $500 million                $460 million

Sec. 1433                                $4 million                    $0                                $4 million

Smith Lever                             $315 million                $299 million                $325 million

The legislation also includes several policy riders related to agricultural research.  The bill includes language blocking USDA’s proposal to relocate the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) outside the National Capital Region.  The bill also blocks USDA’s proposal to put ERS, currently under USDA’s research mission area, under the Office of the Chief Economist, which is under the Office of the Secretary.  The committee also added language requiring USDA to restore on its website in full all animal welfare and horse protection inspection reports that were taken down after the Trump administration took office. 

An additional policy rider has been added during floor consideration that would prohibit the Agriculture Department and other agencies from removing references to climate change from their publications.  The policy was added by Rep. Underwood (D-IL) in response to the perception that the Trump Administration is restricting how climate change is addressed in scientific reports.  USDA responded to the language by stating that it does not remove references to climate change from its official publications.

The Agriculture Appropriations Bill has been packaged into a “minibus” that includes five FY 2020 spending bills: Commerce-Justice-Science, Agriculture-Rural Development-FDA, Interior-Environment, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development.  The House began consideration of the package during the week of June 17th.  It has completed amendments related to the Agriculture portion of the package and is expected to vote on final passage during the week of June 24th.

USDA and DHS Sign MOA on Transfer of NBAF

On June 20th, officials from USDA and DHS signed aMemorandum of Agreement that formally outlines how the departments will transfer ownership and operational responsibility for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) from DHS’ Science and Technology Directorate to USDA.

When completed, NBAF will be a biosafety level-4 laboratory in Manhattan, Kansas, for the study of diseases that threaten both U.S. agriculture and public health.

Under the terms of the memorandum, DHS retains responsibility for completing construction and commissioning of the $1.25 billion facility, while USDA will assume responsibility for all operational planning and eventual operation of the facility. DHS’ efforts are on schedule and on budget to complete construction in December 2020 and to complete commissioning in May 2021, when ownership of NBAF will be formally transferred to USDA.

Also released at the event was a document outlining USDA’s strategic vision for NBAF. The document summarizes how NBAF will serve as a national biosecurity asset to protect human and animal health, food safety and the ag economy.   Components of the vision include:

  • How NBAF will serve as a national biosecurity asset to protect human and animal health, food safety and the ag economy;
  • The capabilities provided by NBAF;
  • NBAF’s role in predicting, preventing and responding to threats;
  • The scientific mission and goals at NBAF; and
  • How USDA will collaborate with partners to expand NBAF’s capabilities and reach.

Congressional Briefing Held on Agricultural Genome to Phenome Initiative

On June 12th, representatives from Iowa State University, the University of Wisconsin and Texas A&M University provided a briefing to Congressional staff about the need for funding of the Agricultural Genome to Phenome Initiative established under the 2018 Farm Bill.  The briefing was co-sponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Animal Science and the panel was moderated by Doug Steele from the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU).  Penny Riggs of Texas A&M discussed the importance of advancing genome to phenome science in animals, while Natalia de Leon (Wisconsin) and Patrick Schnable (Iowa State) addressed plant science needs.  The briefing was well attended and led to a productive discussion on the genome to phenome science and the need for appropriations to support the Farm Bill provision.