This week, a multitude of Congressional hearings are being held on the President’s FY 2014 budget request for the Department of Agriculture. USDA Secretary Vilsack appeared before the House agricultural appropriations subcommittee on Tuesday to defend the President’s request, Undersecretary for Research, Education, and Economics (REE), Cathie Woteki, and the administrators within the REE mission area testified yesterday, and today, USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, Ed Avalos, and the administrators within this mission area (including the Acting Administrator for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) is appearing before the subcommittee.
While the REE mission area receives less than 2% of the overall USDA budget, research was a major topic of discussion during the Vilsack hearing. Many scientific societies who place absolute priority on increasing funding for the USDA’s flagship competitive grants program, AFRI, must have been disappointed that the focus of the discussions about research were on the importance of USDA’s intramural programs and facilities funded through the ARS. The hearing illustrates the reality of the constraints under which we must operate if we are to increase funding for agricultural research broadly. As former Speaker of the House of Representatives Tip O’Neil frequently said, “All politics is local”. This came through loud and clear at the Vilsack hearing. The subcommittee members were concerned about cuts in funding for research in their districts and the fact that their research facilities were not on the priority list for infrastructure improvement funding.
Because of the need for members of congress to focus on the impacts that legislation and appropriations have on their own districts, the various budget proposals over the past 20+ years to increase competitively awarded funding at USDA by taking funds from ARS or formula funds that support land grant institutions and extension, have most been dead on arrival in Congress. This is why the APS Public Policy Board has consistently advocated for net increases in spending for the entire REE mission area and has opposed efforts that would rob Peter (e.g., ARS) to pay Paul (e.g., AFRI).
We have been criticized occasionally for taking this position but it is starting to pay off. This year, the President’s budget request includes a “net” overall increase in funding for agricultural research. Included in the request is a significant increase in competitively awarded funding but it isn’t taken out of the ARS budget. While there are certainly winners and losers in the President’s budget request, the overall numbers should be our focus at this time. If we can hold onto the baseline and increase funding from there, overall research, extension, and education funding will rise (i.e., the whole boat will rise). The Administration deserves a big “thank-you” for requesting a net increase in funding for science at USDA.
The sequester has been implemented and there is no sign that it will be reversed for the current fiscal year as action on the FY 2013 continuing resolution is expected to proceed without addressing the 1 March 2013 sequester order. The order requires a 5.0 percent reduction in discretionary domestic spending which includes most of the science, extension, education, and regulatory programs of interest to plant pathologists. Because the cut is being implemented over 7 months, the effective reduction is about 9.0 percent for the remainder of the fiscal year.
In a memorandum to the heads of US agencies and departments, the director of the Office of Management Budget (OMB) suggested that money could be saved by “minimizing noncritical expenditures such as training, conferences and travel”. While participation by governmental scientists in scientific society conferences was expected to be down already due to general, government-wide travel limitations, this will no doubt reduce participation even further.
The following chart depicts a rough outline of the cuts that some of the programs will sustain as a result of the sequester. The “sequestrable amount of budget authority” is the amount of funding within the program or account that is subject to the sequester. For virtually all of the programs listed in the chart, the “sequestrable amount” is equal to the total program funding.
FY 2013 Sequester Implemented 1 March 2013
US Department Agency/Account
Sequestrable Budget Authority (BA) Amount
Sequester Amount ($ in millions)
US Department of Agriculture
Economic Research Service (ERS)
National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS)
Agricultural Research Service (ARS) - Salaries & Expenses
National Institutes for Food & Agriculture (NIFA) - Extension Activities
NIFA - Research & Education activities
NIFA - Integrated Activities
Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) - Salaries and Expenses
US Department of Health & Human Services
Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention - CDC-wide activities & programs
CDC - Toxic substances, environmental health, and disease registry
National Institutes of Health (NIH)
US Department of Homeland Security
Customs & Border Protection (CBP)
CBP Automation & Modernization
Border Security, Fencing, Infrastructure, & Technology
Science & Technoogy
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Science & Technology
Environmental Programs & Management
Registration & Expedited Processing Revolving Fund
Pesticide Registration Fund
Executive Office of the President
Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP)
Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR)
Office of Management and Budget (OMB)
US Department of State
Millenium Challenge Corporation
Global Food Security Fund
Agency for International Development (AID) - Operating expenses
Trade & Development Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
National Science Foundation (NSF)
Research & Related Activities
Education & Human Resources
Agency Operations & Award Management
Major Research Equipment & Facilities Construction
US Department Agency/Account
The sequester (i.e., across the board spending cuts) will be implemented today. Furloughs are not expected until April at the earliest, however, individual agencies may phase-in furloughs at different times and some may be able to avoid furloughs completely. The US Office of Management & Budget is expected to provide specific agency-by-agency details later today.
The sequester will be applied to program funding accounts. This will allow some flexibility to program managers although they won’t be able to shift funds from one account to another. For example, the USDA-NIFA flagship competitive grants program, AFRI, will be subject to the same percentage reduction as the National Plant Diagnostic Network.
Negotiations between the President and republican and democratic congressional leaders will continue although it is doubtful a deal will be achieved. Several members of congress have introduced a variety of so-called “agency flexibility” bills that would grant some measure of flexibility for agencies to prioritize the cuts.
In the meantime, leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees are piecing together an omnibus continuing resolution that would provide appropriations through September 2013. This legislation must be enacted by 27 March 2013 to keep the government operating; failure to enact a continuing resolution by that time will result in a government shut-down.
As the continuing resolution is considered, there will be some attempts to replace the sequester with specific funding cuts (e.g., Senate democrats proposed recently to eliminate direct farm payments as one means of raising funds sufficient to avoid a sequester). However, the path of least resistance for congressional democrats and republicans may well be to allow the sequester to stay in place.
Stay tuned for more information.
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!
You may have seen the news lately about how important NIH funding is to the US economy. In an update to a 2011 study, the “United for Medical Research” organization reported this week that the FY 2011 US National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding of $30.7 “produced $62.132 billion in new economic activity” (Ehrlich, 2012). This means that for every dollar invested in the NIH, an additional $2.02 in new economic activity is produced. There is little doubt that the increase in economic activity of this magnitude is significant. NIH research, of course, is not simply for biomedical research. Some of the NIH funding does support agriculturally related research, including almost $1 billion in food safety research.
What I found interesting about the report, however, is how small the multiplier effect is for NIH research when compared with that of agricultural research. According to a recent publication by Julian Alston, each dollar of state-specific agricultural research investments generated an average national benefit of $32 and USDA intramural research returned an average of $18 per dollar invested (Alston, 2010). There are, of course, a lot of other studies that indicate higher returns on investments in agricultural research but virtually all agree that, at a minimum, $20 in economic activity is generated for each $1 invested in US agricultural research. According to estimates from the US Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), USDA is expected to invest slightly less than $2.1 billion for extramural and intramural research in FY 2012. At a return of $20 for every dollar invested, this will generate economic activity of $42 billion. The FY 2012 level at USDA, though, is $35 million LESS than what was spent in FY 2011 and this led to lost economic activity of $700 million. Thus, every time we reduce overall funding for USDA extramural and intramural research, there are significant impacts on the US economy, far more than the impact of a comparable reduction in biomedical research.
If we were to provide USDA $3.1 billion for agricultural research (about 10% of the total NIH budget) in one year, we would generate $62 billion in economic activity, i.e., the same amount of return as the NIH. Is a $1 billion increase in USDA research achievable in the short term? No, but maybe we can convince policy makers to increase USDA research by about $100 million in FY 2013 (~ 5 percent increase). This alone would generate an additional $2 billion in economic activity for the US economy.
For the long-term, though, we have to change how policy makers view the value of increasing investments in agricultural research at USDA. We have to be better at explaining the real impact of extramural and intramural research investments at USDA. We have to help them understand the cost-effectiveness of making strategic investments in agricultural research. This will be a long, up and down process of taking two steps forward and one back, but I believe that we can see net research at USDA increase to $3.1 billion over the next 5-10 years. Let’s get to work!
Alston, J.M. (2010). The Benefits from Agricultural Research and Development, Innovation, and Productivity Growth (Paris: OECD Publishing).
Ehrlich, E. (2012). NIH's Role in Sustaining the U.S. Economy: A 2011 Update (Washington, D.C.: United for Medical Research).
Normally, this week, those interested in US Federal budgets and appropriations are pouring over the Administration’s budget request for the next fiscal year. The release of the budget typically occurs the first Monday in February, but the Administration announced in January that they would submit the FY2013 budget request to Congress on 13 February this year. Though an intriguing thought, I am not sure that the release of the 2013 budget request on the 13th day has any hidden meanings; rather, I think that it just gave the Administration another week to refine a budget that will include unpopular cuts. Theoretically, we should have had a short reprieve for analyzing the budget this year but the overall economic outlook as released by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in late January has everyone concerned about the depth of potential cuts heading our way.
Assuming that there are no major changes enacted in spending programs or revenue laws, we are set for a budget deficit of $1.1 trillion in FY2012. This is slightly lower (2%) than what we saw in 2011 but as CBO indicated, this is higher than any deficit between 1947 and 2008. Again, assuming current laws remain unchanged, discretionary spending (i.e., allocations made through the annual appropriations bills) is slated to decline steadily over the next 10 years to reach the lowest level in more than 50 years, largely because of the statutory caps on discretionary spending that were included in last year’s debt limit deal. Concurrently, spending on mandatory programs (funding allocations set at a specific benefit or funding level by statute and not subject to a separate allocation in an appropriations bill), will increase unless changes in the laws are passed. Agricultural scientists, educators, and extension personnel should be aware of this as virtually all research, extension, and education programs are funded through discretionary spending. For FY 2012, overall discretionary spending for programs that fall under the jurisdiction of the agricultural appropriations subcommittees equaled about $19.5 billion, of which $2.5 billion was allocated for the Food and Drug Administration and $2.3 billion was allocated for the USDA’s Research, Education, and Economics (REE) mission area.
Last week, we discussed the possibility that across-the-board cuts (i.e., a “sequestration”) would occur in January 2013 if Congress does not enact legislation that keeps discretionary spending under the spending cap. For the first two years (FY 2012 and FY 2013), mandatory programs generally are not subject to sequestration so we could see discretionary programs cut by as much as 14%, according to some estimates, in FY 2013. Under this scenario (which could be one of the better ones), REE programs could be cut by $322 million. Why is this one of the better options? Sequestration will be applied to the appropriated funding levels at the time (January 2013) for individual programs. If the President’s budget request reduces spending for the REE mission area, this will be the starting point for the appropriations committees to develop FY 2013 funding levels. It will take a lot of effort (and may be impossible) for us to convince Congress to make the much needed investments in the REE mission area if the budget request starts us out at a significant disadvantage. We will keep you posted over the next few weeks as we analyze the budget request and begin to gain a sense of what APS members will need to do to help avoid a massive cut in January 2013.
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.