On 16 June, the House of Representatives passed its budget for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for fiscal year (FY) 2012. The bill, HR 2112, would cut the department’s discretionary funding by 13 percent relative to FY 2011. The bill passed by a narrow margin of fourteen votes. All House Democrats and 19 Republicans opposed the measure.

Among the programs targeted for funding reductions are the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The legislation would cut the budget for ARS, the USDA’s in-house research division, by 12 percent relative to FY 2011. Among the proposed budget cuts are the closure of ten ARS research facilities, an action supported by the Obama Administration. Funding for competitive, extramural research within NIFA would decrease by 13 percent, well below the 22 percent increase requested by the Obama Administration.

According to Appropriations Committee report language accompanying the legislation: “While the bill reduces funding for the agencies and programs under its jurisdiction, it provides sufficient funding for them to focus on their core missions.” In terms of science, the report states that the budget is adequate for core science missions, such as “ensuring that agricultural research is science-based and focused on keeping American agriculture competitive…”

The Appropriations Committee report cited concern regarding NIFA’s research priorities. The Committee “is concerned about some of the research being funded by the agency. For example, the agency recently awarded more than $23 million in grants to improve regional and local food systems…. In light of … the nation’s serious budget deficit and debt problems, the agency should be focusing its research efforts on only the highest priority, scientifically merited research.”

During floor debate over the legislation, the House considered numerous amendments. One amendment that was adopted would halt USDA’s climate adaptation planning. The policy, which was sponsored by Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA), would prevent USDA from using funds appropriated by the FY 2012 bill to implement a new departmental regulation that calls for assessing how climate change may affect agriculture systems and the department’s operations. Additionally, Reps. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) and Don Young (R-AK) successfully offered an amendment to bar the Food and Drug Administration from spending money in FY 2012 to consider the approval of genetically engineered salmon.

The House Appropriations Committee also advanced legislation to fund the Department of Energy in FY 2012. The Committee approved a bill on 15 June to fund the Office of Science at $4.8 billion, a $43 million decrease. The Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program would receive $547.1 million, $64.7 million less than last year and $170.8 million less than President Obama requested.

The Appropriations Committee would like some of those reductions to come from the Climate and Environmental Sciences program within BER. “[C]limate research at the Department of Energy is closely related to activities carried out in other federal agencies and may be better carried out by those organizations. The Department proposes to eliminate medical research focused on human applications in order to direct limited funds to on-mission purposes, and the Department should apply the same principles to climate and atmospheric research.”

 


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