Thursday, March 10, 2011

House Appropriations Subcommittees Hearings regarding FY 2012

House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies

On Tuesday, March 1, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies held a hearing with Secretary Tom Vilsack at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to discuss the President’s proposed fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget for the USDA. The subcommittee is examining USDA’s spending and discussing how to proceed throughout the remainder of FY 2011 and into FY 2012. The President’s FY 2012 budget request $130 billion dollars, which is a $3 billion dollar reduction from the FY 2011 annualized continuing resolution.

When asked about how H.R. 1 and the President’s FY 2012 budget request would influence USDA research funding, Vilsack raised the issue of Congress’ and the Administration’s elimination of earmarks, which have previously funded a portion of USDA research and research facilities. There is no doubt that with earmark elimination, research funding will be reduced overall.

Secretary Vilsack stated that in this time of budget constraints, careful prioritization of funding for programs will be critical, saying that each budget decision will be a “shared sacrifice and shared opportunity”.

In addition to research, the Secretary and members of the committee discussed issues of rural development, market opportunities, the farm bill, conservation, food safety, domestic nutrition, and food-aid programs.

Interior and Environment Subcommittee

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson testified before the House Appropriations Interior and Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee on Thursday, March 9. During the hearing, Jackson was questioned about the EPA’s budget request for FY 2012, with the topics of EPA’s ability to regulated greenhouse gases and expansion of its jurisdiction over state waters surfacing fueling heated debate.

Throughout Jackson’s tenure as EPA Administrator there has been much controversy regarding EPA’s regulatory role, the Administrator often being criticized for a regulatory overreach that will have a negative impact on the US economy. According to chairman of the subcommittee Mike Simpson (R, 2nd ID), “It should be up to Congress, not the Administration, to determine whether and how to regulate greenhouse gases.” During the hearing, Chairman Simpson supported the funding reductions for the EPA that are included in the continuing resolution, H.R. 1. The provisions in H.R. 1 will reduce EPA funding by 30% for the remaining portion of the current fiscal year. Note: there are 22 amendments included in H.R. 1 that would limit funding for EPA and its regulations, according to Simpson.

Amidst the criticism, Administrator Jackson received strong words of support from Congressman Norm Dicks (D, 6th WA) as his opening statement referred to the passage of critical environmental legislation during the Nixon Administration in comparison to the volatile nature of the current bipartisan political environment. At the end of his remarks he stood from his chair and emphatically told Jackson, “Don’t be intimidated—Do your job.”

House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Administrator Charles Bolden defended the agency’s Earth Science program to House Appropriators on the Subcommittee for Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, Thursday, March 3. The discussion centered on NASA’s request for $1.8 billion for the Earth Science program in NASA’s FY 2012 proposed budget. That request represents at 25% increase from the current funding levels. The increase in funding will be used, in part, to develop and commence two missions, one of which is to measure soil moisture.

Bolden was questioned about any duplication or overlap of NASA’s earth science research and that of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and United States Geological Survey (USGS). “Everything we do in earth science is unique to NASA,” Bolden stated explaining that NASA is responsible for the development of satellites that are used to generate earth science data contributing to NOAA and USGS earth science and climate science research. Bolden also cited a U.S. Government Accountability Office study from 2009 which determined no duplication between NASA and NOAA in their earth science research.

During the hearing, Bolden defended NASA’s earth science efforts and reminded the subcommittee members that the NASA Mission Statement included in the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 began with the words “To advance and communicate scientific knowledge and understanding of the Earth”.

--Reported by Catherine Swoboda, SSSA's Science Policy Intern

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