Washington Roundup – March 2021
Congress Brings Back Earmarks
On February 26th, Rosa DeLauro, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee announced the return of Congressional earmarks starting in fiscal year 2022. While Democratic leaders have been expressing support for bringing back earmarks, there was some question about whether Republicans would follow suit. However, on March 17th the House Republican Conference voted to approve the policy, paving the way for bipartisan participation in the new earmarking process.
Under the reformed policy, Congressional directed funding will be termed “Community Project Funding”. In response to previous criticisms of earmarks, the committee has outlined several changes to the process. In order to improve transparency and accountability, all requests must be submitted online with lists of funded projects available to the public the same day as subcommittee consideration of an appropriations bill. Members can request up to 10 projects, although there is no guarantee how many will be funded. Members must certify that they have no financial interest in the project and demonstrate strong community support for the initiative.
Projects can only go to State or local governmental grantees and eligible non-profits. For-profit entities cannot receive Community Project Funding. Overall spending for Community Project Funding will be limited to no more than 1 percent of total discretionary spending. More details on the Community Project Funding rules can be found here.
Biden Administration to Release FY 2022 Budget Outline
On March 23rd, officials from the Biden Administration reported that a “preview” of the fiscal 2022 budget will be released during the last week of March. The information to be released will not be a full, detailed budget proposal, but it is expected to suggest overall discretionary spending levels for government agencies, including those within the Department of Agriculture. It is worth noting that the fiscal year 2022 process will not be subject to statutory spending caps, as has been the case in recent years.
The release will enable the Biden Administration to highlight its priority areas for spending as Congressional committees begin the annual appropriations process. A full budget proposal will be issued sometime in the spring, with some sources predicting the details to be provided in May. This approach is typical in the first year of an administration after a Presidential election.
APLU Releases Report on Infrastructure Needs
On March 4th, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) released a report on the current state of agricultural research infrastructure. The study identifies a total of $11.5 billion in needed repairs and renovations at the buildings and supporting facilities at schools of agriculture authorized to receive U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) research funding. The study notes that 69 percent of the buildings across 97 land-grant universities are more than 25 years old and require urgent upgrades to remain safe and useful. Without action, the declining state of these facilities threatens to hinder critical research on food safety and security, natural resources, climate change, and other key matters.
The report concludes by asserting that catching up and keeping up the U.S. food and agricultural research infrastructure at colleges and schools of agriculture around the country will require federal investment and planning. The release of the report is very timely, as the Biden Administration and Congress consider additional investments and programs to support the nation’s infrastructure.