It’s the 7th of October and at midnight the US government will enter its 8th day of shutdown. While many thought that the shutdown would be short-lived, this has not been the case. Indeed, it now appears as though the shutdown will last at least until the 17th of October – the date by which the US debt limit must be increased to avoid default on government loans. If you are curious as to how the government is (or is not really) operating during the shutdown, you can find copies of all agency plans here.
More importantly, APS has many members who serve on the staff of governmental agencies and many other members whose research or economic viability depends on access to Federal funding or the variety of regulatory activities that enable research and commercial activities related to plants and associated microbes, including plant pathogens. Who is minding these stores during the shutdown?
According to the contingency plans, most of the agencies have a handful (2-5) of employees at headquarters on call for emergency activities and most governmental websites have been shuttered. Here are a few more specific examples of the impact of the shutdown on employees at a few agencies.
· Out of approximately 10,190 staff within the research division of USDA (i.e., ARS, ERS, NASS, & NIFA), only 408 are working with 402 of these at ARS maintaining essential research facilities. This means that 96% of employees at these 4 agencies have been furloughed.
· APHIS receives some revenue from trust funds and user fees so it is not completely dependent on annual appropriation bills. For agricultural emergencies involving invasive pests and diseases, Commodity Credit Corporation mandatory funding is available. In addition, mandatory farm bill funding supports some pests and disease activities. In all, these non-appropriated funds will keep 3,037 APHIS employees working.
· The US Forest Service has furloughed almost 60% of its staff as you may have seen firsthand if you tried to visit a national park this past weekend.
· The National Science Foundation furloughed 1,970 employees and has kept 30 staff (slightly above 1%) to protect life and property.
It is hard to imagine what the financial toll will be on many of the governmental workers who will go without pay for at least one full pay period. Even if Congress enacts legislation to provide back-pay, no doubt many employees will have trouble making ends meet this month and they deserve our support.
What can you do? Contact your members of congress and tell them to pass, at least, a clean continuing appropriations resolution. If you are a governmental employee affected by the shutdown, remember that you can contact your members of congress as well provided you use your personal email and contact details.
Over the past few years, in observing the US budget debates and its potential impact on agricultural research, extension, and education funding, I have felt as though I was constantly saying that the “sky is falling” and then the “sky did not fall” as a last minute deal was struck to delay severe budget cuts. Here we go again although it is extremely likely that there will be major reductions in budgets this year. By 1 March 2013, if a consensus is not reached, the $85 billion sequester (i.e., across-the-board budget cuts) will kick-in and all agencies will have no choice but to implement plans to reduce the annual budget of all spending programs by 5 percent. Since 5 months of the year have elapsed already, the effective percentage reduction would be about 9 percent. From a personnel standpoint, this could result in furloughs of up to 15 days between 1 March and 30 September for most government employees.
Do agencies have flexibility for allocating the percentage reduction? No. There are a lot of proposals being bandied about that would give the Secretary of Defense and potentially other heads of departments some flexibility, but it is unlikely an agreement will be reached in time.
Will Congress pass one of the proposals to avert/delay the sequester? There will be a lot of votes this week but it is unlikely that any one of them will be adopted by both houses of Congress and signed by the President.
If the sequester is delayed by 1 March, what is the likely timing of the delay? Right now, the government is operating on a continuing resolution that provided funding through 27 March 2013 for all agencies at the fiscal year 2012 level. If the sequester is delayed this week, more than likely it will be delayed no longer than the 27th of March.
What will happen by 27 March 2013? Some of the proposals being discussed right now would enact another appropriations legislation that would continue funding for the rest of the current fiscal year (FY 2013), include budget cuts of $85-115 billion, raise additional revenue, and cancel the sequester. Other proposals would keep the sequester and continue funding at or below the level provided under the sequester.
If Congress passes the FY 2013 appropriations legislation by 27 March, is that all of the budget negotiations for the year? Unfortunately, that legislation will only wrap up the current fiscal year. Congress must also pass appropriations legislation for the fiscal year that begins on 1 October.
Is there anything that APS members can do? Absolutely! Please contact your members of congress and encourage them to support an approach to addressing our budget deficits that recognizes the importance of making essential investments for the future such as in agricultural science, extension, and education programs.
If you have turned on your television or picked up a newspaper in the past month, you are likely aware that the United States is swiftly approaching the “fiscal cliff.” Did you know that the fiscal cliff and its associated automatic spending cuts (sequestration) threaten to seriously impact agricultural science? The cuts are expected to reduce federal support of science by 9% or more, which is estimated at more than $15 billion.
Contact your Congressional representatives now and urge them to avoid sequestration and pursue a balanced, comprehensive deficit reduction plan that sustains the scientific enterprise. Click here to contact your senators. Click here to contact your House representative. Let Congress know your opinion at this critical time in American history!
January 2, 2013 should be circled on your mental calendar. On this date, across-the-board budget cuts (“sequestration”; see Kellye’s “US Federal Budget Outlook” post for background information) will take place…unless Congress and the President take action. These cuts will generally not affect mandatory programs at first, so we can expect to see significant cuts to discretionary programs (e.g. research, education and extension funding). The cuts are expected to reduce federal support of science by 9% or more, which is estimated at more than $15 billion.
What can you do to minimize impacts on funding for agricultural science?
Encourage your Congressional representatives to avoid sequestration and pursue a comprehensive deficit reduction plan that sustains the scientific enterprise.
STUDENTS: APS has been made aware that student members of the American Physical Society have drafted a letter to Congressional leadership expressing concern about the future for scientists and engineers in America. Follow this link to view and sign the letter: http://go.aps.org/sequestration2012.
The good news is that there is still time for Congress to act. You have a say in the matter! Let your voice be heard!
The agricultural research, education, and extension programs at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and related science programs at other Federal agencies survived the tumultuous fiscal year 2012 appropriations cycle for the US government with only a few scars. While all early indications pointed to a year of colossal cuts in USDA research, education, and extension programs, consistent advocacy for maintaining the viability of the agricultural sector through basic and applied science and technology programs yielded results on Capitol Hill and led to only minor decreases in funding for the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Even though the overall decreases for NIFA and the ARS are 1 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively, when compared to the FY 2011 levels, there were a few programmatic reductions that will have significant ramifications for some individuals. For example, ARS is closing 12 agricultural programs at 10 locations, and funding was zeroed out for NIFA’s integrated food safety program that has funded essential pathogen-host interaction studies. The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) sustained a funding cut of almost 6 percent and 15 APHIS offices will be closed. Funding for the Basic Energy Sciences program at the Department of Energy was reduced by almost 5 percent while research and related activities at the National Science Foundation received an increase of almost 4 percent. Total funding for nondefense research and development at all US governmental agencies will be 1.4 percent less in FY 2012 than in 2011 (in nominal terms).
After surviving last year’s funding difficulties and ending up with a less dire situation than expected, we might be tempted to think that we can take it easy this year and not worry too much about funding levels for plant pathology related programs at the USDA and other agencies. Who would expect major cuts in an election year? After all even the “Super Committee” was not able to reach an agreement on measures to put the US fiscal house in order. Then, of course, with a potentially tight Presidential race, neither party will want to take unpopular decisions that might alienate voters. So, we can sit back, relax, and wait until next year, right? Wrong.
Precisely because the Super Committee was not able to put together a $1.5 trillion, 10-year package of budget reductions last year, automatic, across-the-board cuts (“sequestration” of funds) will begin in January 2013 unless Congress and the President take additional actions. As part of the debt limit agreement enacted late last summer, a mechanism was put in place to force automatic cuts if Congress and the Administration were unable to implement significant reductions in spending before the end of 2011. While the exact level of overall cuts is not yet known, this automatic mechanism could require annual cuts of more than $100 billion per year. If there is a budget and appropriations agreement this year that implements programmatic reductions in spending sufficient to meet the statutory spending caps outlined in the debt limit agreement, the sequestration can be avoided. Alternatively, if that fails, the only way to avoid the sequestration is to change or repeal the relevant provisions of the 2011 Debt Limit Agreement. Either scenario will require the Congress and the President to reach an agreement this year. Yes, this year, an election year in which the control of the Senate and the White House is up for grabs. As occurred with the Super Committee last fall, this may prove too tall an order for the political leaders of either political party. Thus, there is an increasing likelihood that we will see automatic cuts within the next year. Of importance to agricultural research, extension, and education programs, is the fact that these cuts will not be applied at the same level for all programs as the Administration retains the authority to move funding between programs. Thus, it is possible that USDA programs could sustain a much larger percentage cut than other agencies.
No one disputes that something must be done about the escalating US budget deficits. While spending cuts are certainly in order, concurrent investments in research and development must also be made to jumpstart our economy in the short-term and build a foundation for sustainable economic viability for our long-term future. Numerous studies have indicated the significant return that accrues from investment in agricultural research programs. Unfortunately, many forget about agricultural research when developing science and technology stimulus packages. Each of us needs to remind policy makers of the importance of maintaining and, indeed, increasing funding for Federally supported agricultural research programs. If we fail to make our case convincingly and persistently to policy makers, we could see massive reductions in agricultural research, extension, and education programs the repercussions of which could be with us for decades to come.
Were you a graduate student in 1985? If so, you likely endured the same challenges faced by today’s pre-doctoral warriors: long nights hunched over Petri plates, days split between teaching and re-revising your thesis revisions, and a diet consisting of re-hydrated foods and leftovers from faculty meetings. Graduate students from every generation are united by the understanding that hard work pays off in the long term, and – monetarily speaking – definitely NOT in the short term. As a pre-1986 graduate student, however, you had a slight financial advantage over your contemporaries: you did not give 15% of your modest income to the federal government. This, along with your totally rad 80’s fashion sense, is where you came out ahead of your younger counterparts.
In 1986, Ronald Reagan signed sweeping tax reforms into law. The Tax Reform Act of 1986, which was the most recent major revision of the U.S. tax code, included new rules for taxation of graduate student income. Stipends, which had previously been treated as tax-exempt scholarships, became taxable. Currently, any portion of a student’s stipend that is not used for tuition, books or fees directly related to education is subject to federal tax. Thankfully, most schools waive graduate student tuition and few science programs at the graduate level rely heavily on textbooks. This means that graduate students are basically paying tax on their entire stipends.
According to the results of a survey conducted by the Chronicle of Higher Education, the average graduate student working as a Research Assistant in the field of Biology is paid $18,270 per year (2008-2009; 94 institutions reporting). These students are, therefore, paying ~$200 per month in federal taxes. This is a significant amount of money to students, but it amounts to relatively little income for the government. There are fewer than 500,000 doctoral students nationwide, which means the tax on graduate student stipends generates less that $1.4 billion annually – a drop in the budgetary bucket.
Although most students are probably unaware of the pre-1986 tax exemption for stipends, a lobbying effort to change the current policy has gained momentum in recent years. Strategies to solicit help from Congress have, thus far, been unsuccessful. (Click here and here for articles about student delegations to Washington). However, a graduate student at Drexel University is taking a different approach. Joshua Samuels created a petition asking the Obama Administration to consider restoring the tax-exempt status to graduate student stipends. He argues that this restoration would promote “…this difficult but worthwhile career path.” The petition presents an opportunity for the White House to send the message that education is a priority.
The White House reviews and responds to any petition that attracts 25,000 signatures in 30 days. At the time of this blog posting, the petition had 16,385 signatures (making it the 9th most popular petition of the 121 currently online). 8,615 more are required by November 20, 2011.
Click here if you are interested in signing the petition to restore the federal tax-exempt status for graduate student stipends. Your students will thank you!
Recognizing the impact that biological research has on a significant portion of the Nation’s economy, President Barack Obama recently announced that his Administration will develop a National Bioeconomy Blueprint.
In a blog post, Mary Maxon, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Assistant Director for Biological Research, and Mike Stebbins, OSTP Assistant Director for Biotechnology, stated that “by better leveraging America’s national investments in biological research and development, the Administration aims to stimulate the growth of high-wage, high-skill jobs while improving the lives of all Americans.”
The OSTP would like your help with prioritizing approaches to building the US bioeconomy. The National Bioeconomy Blueprint will identify needs and goals, including:
- strategies to meet grand challenges in lean budget times;
- commercialization and entrepreneurship opportunities to open new markets;
- research and development investments in areas that will provide the foundation for the bioeconomy;
- enhancements of workforce training to prepare the next generation of scientists and engineers for the bioeconomy jobs of the future;
- regulatory reforms that will reduce unnecessary burdens and impediments while protecting health and safety, and
- bioeconomy public-private partnerships to accelerate innovation in key areas.
Seize this opportunity to share your ideas with the OSTP!
Send your response as an attachment to an email to firstname.lastname@example.org by 11:59 p.m. ET on December 6, 2011. Please note that your response, including your name and affiliation will eventually be posted by OSTP, so you should not include proprietary or confidential information.
If you had $192.5 billion, wouldn’t you spend $4.4 million to protect it?
The National Plant Diagnostic Network (NPDN) is a 50-state network of plant diagnostic laboratories (led by centers at UC Davis, Cornell, U Florida, Kansas State U, and Michigan State U) charged with detecting high consequence pests and pathogens that have been introduced into the Nation’s agricultural and natural ecosystems, identifying them, and immediately reporting them to appropriate responders and decision makers. To accomplish this mission, the NPDN has invested in plant diagnostic laboratory infrastructure and training, developed an extensive network of first detectors through education and outreach, and enhanced communication among agencies and stakeholders responsible for responding to and mitigating new outbreaks.
The critical infrastructure and programs provided by NPDN are not available elsewhere. NPDN laboratories help protect our nation’s crops, forests, rangelands and ornamentals and their associated industries through careful analysis of hundreds of thousands of samples every year to detect threats that would have significant negative economic impact on agriculture, threaten the safety of our food supply, harm public health, and jeopardize trade.
The NPDN is funded as part of the Food and Agricultural Defense Initiative (FADI), a programmatic line item under National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Integrated Activities. The NPDN shares FADI funding with the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) and the Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN). The President’s 2012 Budget requested continuation of the historical funding level for FADI – $9.83 million. However, NO programmatic funding for FADI was included in the House version of the FY 2012 appropriations bill…NONE…ZERO.
The NPDN operates on a $4.4 million annual budget. The value of crops in the United States was $192.5 billion last year. You do the math.
Often in Washington when no one is happy with a particular piece of legislation, it usually means that all sides had to compromise. Such is certainly the case with regard to the debt limit agreement approved by Congress and signed by the President this week. The legislation is not in and of itself a panacea for the economic troubles affecting the US but it will move towards a more balanced Federal budget by trimming $2.4 trillion from the budget over the next 10 years.
How will this be accomplished? First, statutory caps on discretionary spending were enacted for fiscal years 2012 through 2021. During the first two years, non-security related accounts (e.g., research, education, food safety, etc.) could not be “raided” to put money into defense and homeland security accounts. If the caps have not been met by the beginning of the fiscal year, sequestration (across the board cuts) will occur to virtually all discretionary programs. Second, a 12-member joint committee, to be created within the next few weeks, will be required to submit to Congress by 23 November 2011 specific spending reductions (or revenue increases) that will result in reducing the budget by $1.5 trillion. This budget reductions package must be voted on without amendment by 23 December. If this package or a bill that achieves at least $1.2 trillion in savings is not enacted, an across the board sequestration will be imposed on virtually all discretionary and mandatory programs.
What does this mean for agriculture and agricultural research? On the one hand, agricultural programs were not “targeted” for reductions of up to $30 billion in FY 2012 as had been proposed in an earlier budget proposal. On the other hand, to meet the FY 2012 statutory cap for discretionary funding, $917 billion (yes, billion with a “b”) in discretionary program cuts , including discretionary USDA and other important research, extension, and education programs, must be enacted by 1 October, the beginning of the 2012 fiscal year. At this time, we do not know how much of the burden for achieving this goal will be assigned to the agricultural appropriations subcommittee yet but we can expect it to be significant.
As we have seen time and time again, agricultural research is often an easy target for spending cuts. Why? Because scientists are often reluctant to become involved in politics and industry (growers and companies) is often focused on saving funds for programs that provide direct, immediate income or support for commercial activities. Unless scientists become involved and let members of Congress and the President know that important agricultural research is critical to the long-term economic vitality of the agricultural industry and the nation, more than likely we will see agricultural research take a disproportionate funding hit this year and for the next 10 years.
If you want to help change the paradigm for agricultural research, come by the PPB booth at the annual meeting and “Get Engaged”! If you are not coming to the meeting, click on the links to the right and contact your members of congress immediately!