Cornerstone Report from Washington

Vol. 9, No. 6 – March 17, 2011

 

Budget and Appropriations Update

 

The federal budget and appropriations process remains stalled and there is no clear end in sight to either the FY 2011 appropriations cycle (for the fiscal year which began on Oct. 1, 2010) or the FY 2012 cycle (which begins on Oct. 1, 2011). However, we know you remain very interested in this matter and so we provide this update.

FY 2011 Status Report

In our last update (www.land-grant.org/reports/2011/03-04.htm), we reported on the proposal unveiled by Senate Appropriations Committee chair Daniel Inouye (D-HI) to fund federal departments and agencies, including the National Institute of Agriculture (NIFA), for the remainder of FY 2011. That proposal would have imposed a broad earmark moratorium but kept much of NIFA’s earmark funds within the agency. The Inouye proposal was developed as an alternative to H.R. 1, the Full Year Continuing Resolution passed by the House on Feb. 19. (See: www.land-grant.org/reports/2011/02-11.htm.) In votes on March 9, the Senate rejected both the Inouye proposal (42 to 58) and the House version of H.R. 1 (44 to 56).

 

Both the House and Senate have now passed another short-term Continuing Resolution, this one to keep the government operating through April 8. Unfortunately, this CR wipes out funding for NIFA’s earmark monies, making much more difficult our effort to retain these funds within the agency. President Obama must sign this stop-gap measure into law by tomorrow since the current CR expires on Friday, March 18.

 

It is obvious that the House and Senate must find some way to compromise on this matter, but the process to reach such an accommodation has yet to emerge. As always, we will keep you informed as events unfold.

 

FY 2012 REE Hearing Held by House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee

Yesterday, the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee held its hearing on the President’s FY 2012 Budget Request for the Research, Education, and Economics (REE) mission area. Testifying was REE Under Secretary Cathie Woteki and REE agency heads, including NIFA Director Roger Beachy. Subcommittee members attending were Reps. Jack Kingston (R-GA), Tom Latham (R-IA), Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Alan Nunnelee (R-MS), Sam Farr (D-CA), and Sanford Bishop (D‑GA).

 

After Woteki’s opening statement, the subcommittee members subjected Woteki, Beachy, and the others to several rounds of questions, with sustained discussion on several issues. Chairman Kingston was particularly interested in REE research programs of benefit to only “a small group” of beneficiaries. Referring to such research as “corporate welfare,” Kingston probed Woteki and Beachy on this subject and received answers explaining the broad reach of USDA research and extension efforts (which span the spectrum from purely fundamental to applied). Kingston was also very interested in the “big picture,” asking Beachy and ARS Administrator Ed Knipling about their top five accomplishments. Beachy responded that vastly increased crop yields was undoubtedly the most significant accomplishment emanating from NIFA.

 

Ranking Democrat Farr repeatedly asked Woteki to justify NIFA’s formula-based programs, especially the manner in which funds are allocated. Farr said that elimination of earmarks and the “heavy reliance” on formula funds, leaves NIFA with almost no freedom to pursue the priorities it judges most important. Woteki reminded Farr of the critical role that formula funds play in sustaining land-grant research and extension infrastructure, but Farr was not mollified. He responded that he understood the infrastructure argument, but finds the existing formulas to be “unfair” to states such as California. He asked, “Is it fair for Iowa to receive twice as much as California” under formulas “adopted in the last century?”

 

Other members of the subcommittee, including Reps. Latham, Bishop, Emerson, and Lummis asked questions about various NIFA programs and activities. Latham asked why the President wanted to cut Hatch, Smith-Lever, and McIntire-Stennis Cooperative Forestry by five percent. He was told that the cuts were needed to address the budget deficit and federal debt. “Painful choices,” was how Woteki put it. Emerson noted that the National Institute of Health (NIH) spends $170 for every dollar spent by USDA on NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). She asked how much was requested under AFRI and how much awarded. Beachy replied that in FY 2010 the agency received $4 billion in requests for $250 million in funding, with proposals coming from more than 500 different institutions.

 

The Cornerstone Team