July 28, 2019

July D.C. Update

Washington Roundup – July 2019

By: Lowell Randel

White House and Congress Reach Budget Deal

On July 25th, the House of Representatives passed a budget agreement that suspends the debt ceiling through July 2021 and increases discretionary spending caps for fiscal years 2020 and 2021.  Funding for defense and non-defense programs would be increased by $320 billion over the previously established budget caps.  Overall non-defense discretionary spending would be $621.5 billion for fiscal year 2020.  The avoids $55 billion in cuts called for in the budget caps and represents a $24.5 billion increase over FY 2019 levels.  Congress will still need to decide on how to allocate the funds across the various appropriations bills, including the agriculture appropriations bill, and bills supporting other science agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. 

The package was approved by a vote of 284-149 and garnered some bipartisan support.  The bill is expected to be approved by the Senate the week of July 29th.  While fiscal conservatives have been critical of the deal, President Trump has signaled his support for the $2.7 trillion deal.  Trump has touted the inclusion of language in the deal that Congress would not insert “poison pills” or riders that limit his discretion on the use of FY 2019 dollars for initiatives such as building along the border.

Senate leaders had indicated that they would not move forward with FY 2020 appropriations bills until a budget deal was reached.  The agreement should help pave the way for progress on appropriations after the August recess.  However, with the fiscal year ending on September 30th, it is unlikely that all work will be completed before the end of the fiscal year.


Senate Holds Hearing on Agricultural Research and the 2018 Farm Bill

The Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing on July 18 to examine USDA’s implementation of the Research Title of the 2018 Farm Bill.  The lone witness at the hearing was Dr. Scott Hutchins, Deputy Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics.  Hutchins’ testimony highlighted the activities of the agencies under his purview (ARS, ERS, NASS and NIFA), outlined steps taken thus far regarding Farm Bill implementation and addressed the proposed move of ERS and NIFA to Kansas City.

Specific actions taken towards implementation of the Farm Bill included:

  • Publishing the Request for Applications (RFA) for the Organic agriculture research and extension initiative (OREI).
  • Publishing the updated matching requirements chart and indirect cost chart on its website and sent an update to all stakeholders.
  • Publishing the RFA for The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) component of the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach.
  • Publishing a Federal Register Notice regarding new Non Land-Grant Colleges of Agriculture certification process. Currently, NIFA has certified 39 Non Land-Grant Colleges of Agriculture using the updated definition.
  • Holding multiple listening sessions and webinars for feedback on how to best implement the new 1890 Scholarship program.
  • Providing guidance to 1890 universities regarding the change to carryover of funds for extension at these institutions.
  • Publishing the RFA for the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (Formally known as FINI)

Much of the question and answer period of the hearing focused on the proposed move of ERS and NIFA to Kansas City.  Democrats on the committee were very critical of the move and asked questions about the loss of current employees and the potential long-term impacts to the programs of both agencies.  Chairman Roberts signaled his support for the move, which is not surprising, since the state of Kansas is part of the winning effort to secure the new location for the agencies.  Hutchins tried to reassure members of the committee that the Department is focused on making sure the move does not disrupt the critical programs of ERS and NIFA.  He announced that 6 new employees have already been hired to join ERS in Kansas City.


Science Agency (non-USDA) Funding Update

The House of Representatives has made significant progress in moving multiple “mini-bus” packages of appropriations bills this summer.  The approval of the bipartisan budget agreement should enable additional progress in the Senate to address funding for science agencies for FY 2020.

Taking Stock has reported previously on the status of agricultural research funding for FY 2020.  This edition of the Washington Roundup will provide an update on what the House has included for funding of science agencies outside of USDA.

Summary of provisions in House passed appropriations bills:

National Science Foundation (NSF) – The House passed version funds NSF at $8.64 billion – $561.14 million above the fiscal year 2019 enacted level. Research and related activities are funded at $7.1 billion, $586.3 million above the current level. These funds will foster innovation and U.S. economic competitiveness, including funding for research on advanced manufacturing, physics, mathematics, cybersecurity, neuroscience, and STEM education. The bill also invests in important scientific infrastructure such as modernization of Antarctica facilities along with telescopes and research vessels.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) – The House bill provides a total of $41.1 billion for NIH, an increase of $2 billion above the 2019 enacted level and $6.9 billion above the President’s budget request.

The bill continues to support several critical research initiatives, including:

  • $2.4 billion for Alzheimer’s disease research.
  • $3.2 billion for HIV/AIDS research.
  • $500 million for the All of Us precision medicine research initiative.
  • $411 million for the Brain Research through Application of Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative.
  • $195 million for the Cancer Moonshot research initiative.
  • $50 million for the Childhood Cancer Data Initiative.
  • $25 million for firearm injury and mortality prevention research.
  • $75 million for Research Centers in Minority Institutions.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) – NASA is funded at $22.32 billion, $815 million above the 2019 enacted level. This funding includes:

  • $7.16 billion for NASA Science programs – $255.6 million above the fiscal year 2019 enacted level.
  • $123 million for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Engagement, $13 million above fiscal year 2019 and rejecting the Administration’s request to eliminate funding for these programs, which help inspire and train the country’s future STEM workforce.
  • $5.1 billion for Exploration – $79.1 million above the fiscal year 2019 enacted level. This includes funding to continue the development of the Orion crew vehicle, Space Launch System, and related ground systems.

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) – NIST is funded at $1.04 billion in the bill, including $154 million for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership program, an increase of $14 million above fiscal year 2019. $751 million is also included for core NIST research activities to help advance U.S. competitiveness, economic growth, and cybersecurity.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – The legislation contains $5.48 billion for NOAA, which is $54.28 million above the fiscal year 2019 level and more than $1 billion above the Administration’s request. Funding will help address important priorities such as climate research, improvements in weather forecasting, the reduction of harmful algal blooms, and fisheries management.