by Kellye Eversole and Angela Records
Whew! Just hours before the US would have been forced to default on debt, the stars aligned in Washington and the House of Representative passed, and President Obama signed a debt ceiling deal developed by the democratic and republican leaders in the Senate that ended 16 days of government shutdown and extensive furloughs of Federal employees. While I do not believe that it really had an impact on the ability of the Senate leadership to strike an agreement, I found it interesting that the salaries of Senate staff would have ended tomorrow, the 18th of October. In my view, the primary factor was that the majority of congressional members wanted to prevent the economic catastrophe and the embarrassment that would have resulted from a default.
Is the problem solved? Is there no longer a risk of another government shutdown? In a few words, things are okay “for now”. Under the agreement, the government will be open until 15 January 2014 and the Secretary of the Treasury will have the authority until 7 February to use extraordinary measures to prevent a default on US debt. The “continuing resolution” (CR) continues government funding at the fiscal year (FY) 2013 levels after the sequestration was implemented (i.e., generally 5 percent less than the FY 2012 program levels). Between now and then, Congress and the President must approve another CR or appropriations legislation to prevent the government from shutting down again.
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.
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!
Kellye EversoleAngela Records
Get ALL the Latest Updates for CHANGING LANDSCAPES OF PLANT PATHOLOGY. Follow APS!