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FY2004 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies Appropriations (12-10-03)

The primary interests for the geoscience community in the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies Appropriations bill are the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

The NRCS (formerly the Soil Conservation Service) works with conservation districts, watershed groups, and the Federal and State agencies having related responsibilities to bring about physical adjustments in land use that will conserve soil and water resources, provide for agricultural production on a sustained basis, and reduce damage by flood and sedimentation. The NRCS, with its dams, debris basins, and planned watersheds, provides technical advice to the agricultural conservation programs, and through these programs, works to minimize pollution. The long-term objectives of the NRCS are designed to maintain and improve the soil, water, and related resources of the Nation's nonpublic lands by: reducing excessive soil erosion, improving irrigation efficiencies, improving water management, reducing upstream flood damages, improving range condition, and improving water quality.

As the chief scientific agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the 1,700 ARS scientists stationed at about 100 locations in the United States and five other countries work to find -- and make available -- solutions to high-priority problems facing the nation's agricultural interests. One of the scientsts' goals is to protect and improve soil, water and other natural resources.

Most Recent Action: On December 8th the House of Representatives approved the Consolidated Appropriations bill for FY04 by a vote of 242-176. Unable to chart the financial course the government will take next year by considering the thirteen appropriations bills one-by-one, Congress "wrapped" the seven outstanding bills together in a catchall legislative vehicle called an 'omnibus' bill. This bill, H.R. 2673, which includes funding for the Department of Agriculture, has not yet been passed by the Senate. Instead, all departments and agencies covered in the $328 billion bill will be funded at FY03 levels through January 31, 2004. The Senate has tentatively scheduled their vote on this legislation for January 20, 2004 at 2:30 p.m.

 

FY04 Agriculture Appropriations Process

Account

FY03 Enacted
($million)

House Action
($million)

Senate Action
($million)

Reduced Conference Committee Action*
($million)

U.S. Department of Agriculture (total)

17,877

17,141

17,000

17,000


16,943


16,843

Natural Resources Conservation Service

820

704

850

827


853


848

--Watershed Surveys and Planning

11

5

11

10


10.5


10.4

--Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations

109

40

90

55


87

86

Agricultural Research Service

1,035

987

1,014

1,045


1,089


1,082

--Research and Information

958

987

not available

not available


not available


not available

--Soil, Water and Air Sciences

102

102

not available

not available


not available


not available

*All conference report values are subject to a 0.59% across-the-board reduction. These numbers are not final until the House and Senate pass the FY2004 Omnibus Appropriations bill, H.R. 2673.

President's Request for FY 2004

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) supports several programs in soil science, watershed management, and water resources. Most of these programs are funded through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), which requested a total of $704 million. Within this amount, $40 million would go towards watershed and flood prevention operations, $5 million would go towards watershed surveys and planning activities, $51 million would go towards ground and surface water conservation programs (non-discretionary spending), and $250 million would go towards the Wetlands Reserve Program (non-discretionary spending). Also funded through the NRCS is the National Cooperative Soil Survey, which is not a separate line item in the budget request and is a joint venture between federal, state and local governments. The Agriculture Research Service (ARS) also supports earth science-related programs. ARS requested a total of $1.0 billion, which includes $102 million for soil, water, and atmospheric sciences research.

Additional information on the Department of Agriculture's budget request is available at http://www.usda.gov/agency/obpa/Home-Page/obpa.html. AGI's examination of the administration's budget request is available here.

House Action

After the administration proposed cutting the NRCS budget by 14%, the House worked hard to repair the damage. The Appropriations Committee increased the NRCS budget by 3.6% over last year's funding level to $850 million. After the administration's 63% cut to Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations, the House managed to restore 46% of those funds, bringing the program to $90 million -- still a far cry from last year's funding of $109 million. The Watershed Surveys and Planning account was also hit hard with a 55% decrease in the administration's request. The House restored all of that funding to last year's level.

Receiving a 2.7% increase over the President's request but a 2% decrease over last year's funding in the House bill, funding for the ARS will most likely be a wash when the FY04 process is complete. The report accompanying the House bill stipulates many ongoing projects that are to remain funded in FY04 and cites several dozen more projects requiring new funding. Once the FY04 budget is finalized, these projects will be grouped into accounts. Until then, the numbers for the Research and Information as well as Soil, Water and Air Sciences will be unavailable.

Senate Action

Following the House lead, the Senate restored funding for NRCS and gave it a 0.8% increase over last year, bringing it to $827 million. In trying to reach a 'happy medium' between last year's funding and this year's 63% reduction by the administration, the Senate funded the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations program at $55 million, a 50% cut from FY03 but a 27% increase over the administration's request. Similarly, Watershed Surveys and Planning was funded at $10 million, a 9.9% reduction from last year but 50% more than the administration's request.

The Senate recommended a 5.5% increase for the ARS in 2004 for specific new and ongoing research activities. The Committee further directed that the increased appropriations "be applied to pay any related cost increases to prevent the further erosion of the agency's capacity to maintain a viable research program at all research locations." Even though no specific funds were set aside for the Research and Information or the Soil, Water and Air Science accounts, numerous projects were earmarked by the committee and those projects, along with their correlating funding amounts, will be placed into the accounts when the FY04 process is complete.

Conference Committee Action

On December 8th the House of Representatives approved the Consolidated Appropriations bill for FY04 by a vote of 242-176. Unable to chart the financial course the government will take next year by considering the thirteen appropriations bills one-by-one, Congress "wrapped" the seven outstanding bills together in a catchall legislative vehicle called an 'omnibus' bill. This bill, H.R. 2673, which includes funding for the Department of Agriculture, has not yet been passed by the Senate. Instead, all departments and agencies covered in the $328 billion bill will be funded at FY03 levels through January 31, 2004. The Senate has tentatively scheduled their vote on this legislation for January 20, 2004 at 2:30 p.m.

While the Conference Committee reduced the total budget for the Department of Agriculture by 5.2%, cuts did not extend to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) or the Agricultural Research Service (ARS). The report filed by the conferees, H. Rept. 108-401, shows that NRCS funding for FY04 will rise to $853 million, $33 million more than last year and $149 million more than the administration requested. Within the NRCS, the Watershed Surveys and Planning account will receive $10.5 million, splitting the difference between House and Senate recommendations but vastly more than the $5 million requested by the President. The Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations Account, on the other hand was cut by $22 million from last year. The $87 million it will receive is still far more than the President's proposed $40 million but the House and Senate just couldn't restore the entire funding cut. The ARS will receive almost a 5% increase over last year's funding despite the administration's request for a $48 million cut.

In an unexpected move, the Committee appropriated $119 million for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Farm and Foreign Agricultural Service and Rural Development mission areas for information technology, systems, and services to aquire a Common Computing Environment.

Sources: United States Department of Agriculture, House Committee on Appropriations, Senate Committee on Appropriations, Library of Congress, and the White House Office of Management and Budget.

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

Contributed by Emily M. Lehr, AGI Government Affairs Program staff

Last Update December 10, 2003


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