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Update on FY2003 Agriculture Appropriations (9-9-02)

The fiscal year (FY) 2003 Agriculture Appropriations bill (H.R. 5263; S. 2801) provides funding to programs within the Department of Agriculture (USDA), excluding the U.S. Forest Service that is funded under the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. The president's request for USDA totaled $74.4 billion for FY 2003. Key programs of interests to the earth sciences are within the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Total CSREES funding would come to $1 billion, with $563 million of that going toward research-related grants and programs. The CSREES budget site provides details for specific programs. Funding for NRCS would total $ 1.3 billion, a small increase from last year's allocation. Several of the watershed programs within NRCS are marked for elimination, including the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations, Watershed Surveys and Planning, the Watershed Rehabilitation Program, and the Wetlands Reserve Program. The Soils Survey program would increase by 3% to total $90 million.

Most Recent Action
Both the House and the Senate Appropriations committees have considered the FY2003 Agriculture appropriations bills (H.R. 5263; S. 2801). Despite completion of the committee process, neither bills were brought up for floor debate before Congress recessed for August. The Agriculture bill, more so than many of the other appropriations bills, includes a large chunk of mandatory spending for activities such as the Child Nutrition Program and the Food Stamp Program. Discretionary spending in both the House and the Senate bills would exceed the president's $17.4 billion request. The House, according to the committee's press release, would provide the Agricultural Research Service, which oversees research in soil, air and water science, with $1.1 billion and conservation activities with $843.6 million. According to the Senate committee press release, S. 2801 would provide the Agriculture Research Service with a $340 million discretionary increase for "competitive research, Congressionally directed research, and research funding that goes out to the states on a formula basis." Conservation activities would be funded at $1 billion under the Senate version. Additional information from the House and Senate reports is available below. Once Congress returns from the August recess, the Agriculture bill along with several of the other appropriations bills will be voted on before the two chambers can meet in conference to formulate a final-compromise bill that will be sent to the president for his signature. (8/29/02)


 House Action   Senate Action   Conference Action 

House Action
The House Appropriations Committee passed H.R. 5263 out of committee on July 11th and filed its report (H. Rept. 107-623) a few days later. Like the other appropriations subcommittees, the Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee did not accept the administration's proposal to transfer the accounting of pension and health benefits to the agencies from the General Services Administration. In total, the House committee would provide $17.6 billion in discretionary spending for activities at the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. According to the committee's press release, the House version would provide $1.1 billion for the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), a decrease of $114 million from last year's allocation. This amount would be a 10% increase from the budget request and would fund a laundry list of activities at universities and small research groups, including some funding for resource conservation research.

Conservation spending at the Department of Agriculture would total $1.02 billion, which is a 2% increase from the budget request and just over 6% more than last year's allocation. Several of the geoscience related programs did not receive specific dollar amounts; instead the report notes that wetlands reserve, ground water conservation, environmental quality incentives, and others would be fully funded through the conservation program funding. The administration proposed to eliminate two accounts -- the watershed surveys and planning and the watershed and flood prevention operations -- but the committee would maintain these programs and provide a small increase to total $11.2 million and $110 million, respectively. Also proposed for elimination were the watershed rehabilitation program and the forestry incentive program, both of which the committee funded. The committee did not provide any of the requested $110 million for emergency watershed protection. The two main accounts within the conservation section are the conservation operations, which provides funds to states for conservation activities at the local level and supports activities funded through the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), and the resource conservation and development fund that works to develop "overall work plans for resource conservation and development projects in cooperation with local sponsors". The conservation operations account would receive $843.5 million, an increase of less than one percent above the request but an 8.3% increase above last year's allocation, and the resource conservation and development fund would receive $55.1 million, a 12.2% increase from the request and 14.6% above last year's funding level.

Now that the House Appropriations Committee has completed action on H.R. 5263, the bill awaits floor debate, at which time members are likely to introduce several amendments. Once the House and Senate have passed their respective versions, the two chambers must meet to draft a compromise version that will be accepted by both. The House has not yet scheduled H.R. 5263 for floor debate.

Senate Action
Similar to the House, the Senate Appropriations Committee completed action on its version of the FY2003 Agriculture Appropriations bill (S. 2801) in July, but the bill was not considered on the Senate floor before the August recess. According to the committee's press release, the bill would provide a total of $17.98 billion in discretionary spending for programs funded through S. 2801. On July 25th, the committee filed its report (S. Rept. 107-223), which provides details on the committee's funding recommendations. The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) would receive $1.06 billion, which is 9.2% more than the budget request and 8.3% more than last year's allocation. The report includes a list of specific programs along with recommended funding levels for ARS projects at universities and research centers around the country. Included in this list was a recommendation for a $900,000 increase above last year "for research into the complex nature of water availability, potential uses, and costs which will help determine future water policy" within the Ogallala Aquifer.

The committee recommended a total of $1.04 billion for conservation activities, with the majority of these funds going towards the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS). Similar to the House recommendations in the conservation programs, the Senate would retain the watershed surveys and planning account and the watershed and flood prevention operations account that had been proposed for elimination in the budget request. The committee would maintain the watershed surveys and planning account at last year's level of just under $11 million but would recommend a slight decrease (-1.5%) from last year for the watershed and flood prevention operations account, to total $105 million. Watershed rehabilitation programs, which had requested no funding in the president's budget, would receive an increase of more than double last year's allocation for a total of $30 million. The committee agreed to the proposal to eliminate funding for the forest incentives program account. Both the conservation operations account and the resources conservation and development account received minor increases above the requested levels for these activities -- totally $847 million and $50.4 million, respectively.

S. 2801 now awaits full Senate consideration, then it will be sent to a House-Senate conference for incorporation into a finalized bill that will be passed by both chambers.


Sources: House Appropriations Committee website, Senate Appropriations Committee website, E&ENews, US Department of Agriculture website, and the Library of Congress website.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at govt@agiweb.org.

Contributed by Margaret A. Baker, AGI Government Affairs and 2002 Spring AAPG/AGI Intern Heather R. Golding

Posted September 4, 2002


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