Washington Roundup – November 2019
By: Lowell Randel
Congress Passes Short-term CR to Avoid Government Shutdown
With current government funding set to expire on November 21st, leaders of the House and Senate worked with President Trump to avoid another government shutdown. Under the deal reached on November 18th, the government would operate under a continuing resolution through December 20th. The House passed the short-term CR on November 19th and the Senate followed on November 21st, paving the way for Trump’s signature. While a shutdown has been averted, much work remains to complete FY 2020 appropriations. Congressional leaders are continuing to hammer out details on allocations between the various appropriations bills, including funding for USDA, as well as more controversial policies such as border spending.
EPA’s Scientific Transparency Rule Sparks Controversy
In 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a proposed rule that would require scientists to include raw data in their submissions to be fully considered by EPA for rule-making. EPA has stated the intent of the rule is to ensure that the science supporting agency decisions is transparent and available for evaluation by the public and stakeholders. On November 8th, EPA sent a draft supplemental federal register notice to OMB that would make some modifications to the original proposed rule. A leaked copy of the notice was secured by the New York Times, sparking controversy that the proposed changes would overly restrict the EPA’s ability to consider research that could help protect public health and the environment. These concerns were raised by members of the House Science Committee at a hearing on November 13th. Some House Democrats are calling on the National Academy of Science to conduct a review on how EPA considers scientific research and the proposed rule.
The EPA has defended the proposed rule and issued a release that the New York Times reporting on the leaked copy is inaccurate and based on earlier drafts of the policy that have subsequently changed. EPA has stated that it plans to issue a Final Rule on scientific transparency in 2020.
Legislation Introduced to Create New Agriculture Research Agency
In November, Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Representative Cindy Axne (D-IA) introduced legislation that would create the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Terra (ARPA–Terra). The legislation, S. 2732 and H.R. 4902, would establish ARPA-Terra as a new agency at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, separate from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Agricultural Research Service (ARS). ARPA–Terra draws on the ARPA model that has been used by the Department of Defense and Department of Energy to support
Innovations and technological developments. The concept also builds on the Agriculture ARDA (AGARDA) pilot program that was authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill.
According to Bennet and Axne, ARPA–Terra would provide competitive funding to land-grant universities for early stage research on technologies that industry might not undertake due to the long-term and high-risk technological barriers that exist. The agency is intended to enable the United States to develop technologies that will export competitiveness, environmental sustainability, and crop resilience to extreme weather. The legislation calls for the Administration to include a budget request for ARPA-Terra separate from the rest of the USDA budget and specifies that appropriations for the new agency would be separate and distinct from the rest of USDA appropriations.
Politico Analysis Shows Shortfall in Federal Nutrition Research Investment
The Washington, DC based politics and policy news organization Politico has recently released an analysis of U.S. federal investment in nutrition research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and USDA. According to their analysis, NIH spent $1.8 billion on nutrition research in 2018, representing less than 5 percent of its total budget. USDA’s ARS invested $88 million on nutrition research, or 7 percent of its research budget in 2018. When adjusted for inflation, this is roughly the same level of funding as 1983. That number is dwarfed by the $144 billion spent annually on nutrition support programs administered by USDA, which make up over 75 percent of the overall USDA budget.
The analysis highlights the need for additional nutrition research and the importance of providing consumers with more science-based information on food choices and their relation to health. The stagnant levels of support for nutrition research at NIH and USDA are prompting calls from some for the creation of a new National Institute of Nutrition to provide additional focus on nutrition research and potentially draw more federal resources. Earlier this year, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) introduced H.R. 1887, the National Institute of Nutrition Act. The bill has been referred to the Energy and Commerce Committee, but no further action has been taken.