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Avoiding the Unintended Consequences of Federal Policy

Stephen Vasquez, University of California Cooperative Extension,

I have regularly volunteered my time with APS since becoming a professional member. Volunteering, I have found, has enhanced my APS membership and annual meeting experience. Serving on the Extension, Early Career, and Placement Committees has given me an opportunity to meet and work with people who I would not normally interact with at my current position. Each year, I look forward to reconnecting with colleagues and committee members to catch-up and evaluate projects that were started 12 months earlier. However, this past year I had a different APS experience sitting on the APS Public Policy Board (PPB) as their early career intern. The one-year internship allows an early-career member to engage with senior members on issues affecting agriculture and important to APS. For the past year, I worked with board members on three important initiatives that included a trip to Washington, DC, to share information with top USDA and EPA officials.

PPB is an efficient, fast-paced, results-oriented board that focuses on three principal issues each year. This past year, the key initiatives PPB focused on were culture collections, education, and food safety. The board’s primary goal is to minimize the unintended consequences of government policies. Perhaps well-intentioned, federal policy can and does affect agriculture and research related to the industry in negative ways. The value of the PPB is that it “provides scientific input on public policy issues to the society’s officers, federal policy makers, and agency personnel…” with positive results. Meeting with federal officials the past 10 years, PPB’s success can be measured by seeing increased monies as line items in the 2011 federal budget focused on the initiatives—a testament to the many arduous volunteer hours that have been committed to PPB over the years, including the past three PPB interns.

My goal when joining PPB was twofold: first, I wanted to gain perspective on how science policy is developed at the federal level and observe its impact on the nation’s agricultural industry. This past year's service on PPB has been an invaluable experience and has helped me to work with policy makers in my home state. Upon my return from Washington, DC, my colleagues and I worked diligently on reorganizing information on issues that we have been working on for the past two years, and presented it in a similar fashion with success. An important component of my success can be attributed to spending time with the board members. The monthly phone calls, annual meetings, and the trip to Washington, DC, allowed for one-on-one discussions with senior colleagues, who helped pair the initiatives to important personnel at the USDA or EPA. Equally important was the chance to talk with APS’s Washington, DC, liaison, Kellye Eversole, who regularly updates and guides PPB on agricultural issues.


Second, I wanted to contribute to PPB. Not having research directly related to its initiatives allowed me to learn more about each initiative and PPB’s primary goals, and gain an appreciation for the incredible job that PPB does in presenting information to federal agencies. Despite not having research directly related to the initiatives, I was able to highlight the role that cooperative extension could and does play as a liaison to the nation’s farmers. Using food safety as an example, I was able to share with USDA officials how my California colleagues have been able to identify sources in the food chain that might have contributed to the E. coli outbreak in spinach. However, I think that my greatest contribution was my suggestion to increase the number of interns on the board and the time that they served. Starting in August 2010, two interns began serving two-year terms that overlap, allowing PPB interns to work on a project that could take multiple years to complete. This enhanced internship will allow for more interaction with senior PPB members and the Washington, DC, liaison and will allow them to hone their skills in public policy.

My interest in participating on PPB was to learn about public policy at the national level and its impact on the nation’s agricultural industry. This past year, my experience on PPB far exceeded my expectations. I would strongly encourage early-career professionals interested or actively participating in public policy to apply for the PPB Early Career Internship. You will not be disappointed!