December 29, 2019

December D.C. Update

Washington Roundup – December 2019

By: Lowell Randel

Congress Passes Package to Fund Government for FY 2020

On December 16th, Congressional leaders unveiled a spending agreement that will fund the government for the remainder of fiscal year 2020.  The agreement packages the 12 individual appropriations bills into two “mini-bus” bills that were passed by Congress ahead of the December 20th deadline.  The legislation will avert a shutdown and avoid the need for additional continuing resolutions. 

For USDA research accounts, there are some modest increases to ARS and NIFA, with most accounts receiving funding at FY 2019 levels.  ARS salaries and expenses rose $111 million while NIFA’s AFRI program received a $10 million increase from $415 million to $425 million.  The majority of other increases to NIFA programs were focused on funding for minority serving institutions.  $5 million in new funding was also included for research equipment grants.

A summary of key provisions is included below:

ACCOUNT                               FY 2019 FINAL             FY 2020 FINAL            

ARS Salaries and Expenses     $1.303 billion              $1.414 billion             

ARS Buildings and Facilities    $381 million                $192.7 million            

Hatch                                      $259 million                $259 million               

AFRI                                         $415 million                $425 million               

Sec. 1433                                $4 million                    $ 4 million                              

Smith Lever                             $315 million                $315 million               

The legislation does not include language blocking USDA’s relocation the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) outside the National Capital Region, as included in the House version of the bill.  However, it does restrict USDA from moving agencies or offices from one part of the Department to another.  This language applies to the original proposal by USDA to move ERS out of the REE Mission Area and into the Office of the Chief Economist.  (USDA has subsequently dropped proposal to shift ERS away from REE.)

Other science agencies across the federal government saw increases to their research budgets.  Under the final bill, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is set to receive a $2.6 billion increase, which is approximately 7 percent higher than FY 2019.  The National Science Foundation (NSF) will receive just over $200 million more than last year, representing a 2.5% increase. The Office of Science at the Department of Energy will receive a 6 percent increase representing $415 million in new funds.

USDA Leaders Address NCFAR Board

On December 18th, ASAS participated in the National Coalition for Food and Agriculture (NCFAR) board meeting.  The meeting included reports and discussion with key USDA officials.  Deputy Undersecretary Scott Hutchins and NIFA Director Scott Angle participated in the meeting and spoke about future plans for USDA REE and NIFA.  Hutchins outline five major themes that will be the focus of REE agencies in the coming years:

  • Sustainable Agriculture Intensification
  • Agricultural Climate Adaptation
  • Food and Nutrition Translation
  • Value-added Innovation
  • Global Agricultural Science Policy Leadership

NIFA Director Scott Angle addressed the current status of relocation to Kansas City.  He acknowledged that the agency lost 75 percent of its staff as a part of the relocation.  While this is a definite challenge for the agency, they are moving quickly to bring on new employees across all agency functions.  NIFA is averaging hiring 10 people per pay period and they are seeing approximately 70 applicants for each position announcement.  Training of new employees is another high priority during the transition. 

Angle stated that all employees have departed the Waterfront building and they are currently in the process of decommissioning the facility.  NIFA will retain approximately 20 staff in Washington, DC, including 6 National Program Liaisons.  These liaisons will represent a broad spectrum of disciplines, including animal science, and serve as points of contact for NIFA stakeholders visiting Washington, DC.  The liaisons will also play an important role in continuing partnerships with other federal research agencies.

Sally Rockey, Executive Director of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) also addressed the NCFAR membership.  She provided an update on FFAR activities.  The foundation recently issued its 100th award and they have been successful in matching foundation resources at approximately 1.25 to 1.

Rockey cited a number of examples of their successful programs, several of which involve animal science.   FFAR has identified six Challenge Areas to focus future efforts including:

  • Soil Health
  • Sustainable Water Management
  • Next Generation Crops
  • Advanced Animal Systems
  • Urban Food Systems
  • Health-Agriculture Nexus

Rockey also discussed efforts to “foster the future” through fellowships and early and mid-career awards and prizes.