Cornerstone Report from Washington

Vol. 10, No. 2 – March 22, 2012

 

REE Hearing Held by House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee
 

Yesterday, the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee held its annual hearing on the President’s Budget Request for the Research, Education, and Economics (REE) mission area of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. REE Under Secretary Catherine Woteki and her agency heads (including NIFA Acting Director Chavonda Jacobs-Young) were witnesses. Subcommittee members present were Jack Kingston (R-GA), Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Alan Nunnelee (R-MS), Sam Farr (D-CA), and Sanford Bishop (DGA). We would call your attention to a few matters that came up during the question and answer period:

 

Ranking Democrat Farr was particularly interested in the proposal to consolidate several existing crop pest management programs into a single “Crop Protection” program. Noting that he had already heard from several interested parties expressing concern that the IR-4 (Interregional Research Project #4 Minor Crop Pest Management Program) mission “would be lost.” Woteki replied that they had also met with a representative group recently and that “we clearly understand the importance of IR-4 for specialty crops.”

 

Woteki also said that the proposal was put forward in response to congressional directives and a desire to provide “more efficient management” of NIFA’s crop protection efforts. Jacobs-Young noted that the agency was embarking upon a “a consultative process beginning next week in Memphis.” Both committed to “work with stakeholders and members of Congress to make sure that everyone’s concerns are addressed.”

 

Other members, including Reps. Lummis, Nunnelee, Bishop, and Emerson asked questions about various NIFA programs and activities. Lummis wanted to know why only 30 percent of funds appropriated for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) goes to “foundational programs like animal health.” Woteki said that “balance of the AFRI portfolio is something we discussed with agency and broader community and because of complaints, we made the decision to increase it to the current 30 percent.”

 

Nunnelee asked that if the REE agencies were going to have to “make do with less,” shouldn’t any budget reductions come first from USDA overhead?” Woteki responded that they were in fact focusing first on administrative savings noting that the travel budget had been cut by 20 percent and that 500 REE mission area employees had taken advantage of early retirement opportunities. Nunnelee asked in follow-up: “Even after those administrative cuts, you may have to cut research. How do you decide what else to cut?” Woteki replied that they’d consult closely with various REE stakeholders and try to use the REE Action Plan for guidance.

 

Farr asked: “If the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) is going away, why aren’t you making specialty crops a greater part of AFRI?” Woteki stated that “SCRI has been funded out of mandatory funds” and the program “has been very productive... Perhaps the Farm Bill reauthorization may provide an extension of mandatory funding. If not, we’ll consider it within AFRI.”

 

Bishop asked questions about AFRI and the NIFA programs the benefit the 1890 land-grant institutions. He specifically wanted to know what steps NIFA was taking to improve the “success rate” of grant applications from 1890 institutions. Jacobs-Young noted that the agency “has strong 1890s relationships, and we’re in constant discussion about how to improve 1890s competitiveness.”

 

The Cornerstone Team