This Statement of Administration Policy provides the Administration's views on the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, FY 2000, as reported by the Senate Committee. As the Senate develops its version of the bill, your consideration of the Administration's views would be appreciated.
The allocation of discretionary resources available to the Senate under the Congressional Budget Resolution is simply inadequate to make the necessary investments that our citizens need and expect. The President's FY 2000 Budget proposes levels of discretionary spending that meet such needs while conforming to the Bipartisan Budget Agreement by making savings proposals in mandatory and other programs available to help finance this spending. Congress has approved, and the President has signed into law, nearly $29 billion of such offsets in appropriations legislation since 1995. The Administration urges the Congress to consider such proposals as the FY 2000 appropriations process moves forward.
The Administration appreciates efforts by the Committee to accommodate certain of the President's priorities within the 302(b) allocation. However, the Committee bill is over $500 million, or four percent, below the program level requested by the President. The FY 2000 Budget would increase spending within the discretionary caps for agriculture and other programs in the bill by 3.6 percent over comparable FY 1999 spending. We urge the Senate to consider the over $600 million in user fees proposed in the FY 2000 Budget in order to fund high-priority programs. Given the current period of financial stress in the agricultural sector, now is not the time to reduce assistance to farmers, ranchers, and rural residents.
Below is a discussion of the Administration's concerns with the Committee bill.
Food and Drug Administration
While the Administration is pleased that the Committee has provided a $62 million increase over the FY 1999 enacted level for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), we are disappointed that the Committee did not fund the full request for the FDA, including important youth tobacco prevention activities and the proposed seafood inspection program transfer.
The Administration is concerned that the Committee's reduction of $56 million from the President's request for non-foods/tobacco FDA activities would jeopardize the FDA's ability to improve the public health infrastructure through enhanced product safety assurance and injury reporting systems. The Administration is also concerned about the Committee's reduction to the FDA building and facilities account, which would delay the completion of FDA field lab consolidation and replacement. The Committee bill does not include the $20 million requested for the replacement of the outdated Los Angeles regional lab, or the $3 million needed to continue work on the Arkansas regional lab. The Administration urges the Senate to fund these activities at the President's requested level.
The Administration is committed to Youth Tobacco Prevention activities and urges the Committee to provide the requested increase of $34 million for these programs. Every day, three thousand young people become regular smokers. Reducing young people's tobacco use would improve public health for generations to come. This is particularly important in light of the recent decision of the conferees on the FY 1999 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act to permit States to retain the entire amount secured from tobacco companies without any commitment whatsoever from the States that those funds be used to reduce youth smoking. To help discourage youth smoking, we urge the Congress to consider the Administration's proposal to increase tobacco taxes.
The Administration urges the Senate to approve the proposal to consolidate Federal seafood inspection activities. The Senate is encouraged to fully fund the requested $3 million for training, education, and other costs associated with the program's transfer.
Food Safety Initiative
The Administration appreciates the Committee's support for the President's Food Safety Initiative (FSI) through increases above the FY 1999 enacted and House bill levels provided to the Department of Agriculture (USDA). We are also encouraged by the increase above enacted that the Committee has provided to FDA for FSI activities. Nonetheless, we are concerned that the Committee has provided only $46 million of the $62 million increase over FY 1999 levels requested in this bill for the Initiative. American consumers enjoy the world's safest food supply, but still too many Americans get sick, and in some cases die, from preventable food-borne diseases. The President's requested increase would also provide critical resources to expand USDA's and FDA's food safety research, risk assessment, and other capabilities. We strongly urge the Senate to provide full funding at the requested levels for these activities and consider the Administration's proposal to charge user fees for Federal meat and poultry inspection services in support of a safe food supply.
Women, Infants, and Children Program
The Administration strongly supports the Committee's $30 million increase for WIC over the House level. The Committee mark would sustain a participation level of 7.4 million in FY 2000. We remain concerned that even this funding level will be insufficient to support the projected participation level of 7.5 million, thereby not achieving our longstanding goal of full participation.
Common Computing Environment
The Administration is very concerned by the Committee's decision not to fund the Common Computing Environment, either directly through the Support Service Bureau, as requested in the President's budget, or by providing additional funds to the county-office agency salaries and expense accounts. Some in Congress have criticized USDA this year for delays in providing the crop-loss assistance funds to farmers that were provided in P.L. 105-277, the FY 1999 Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, and for long waiting periods some farmers and rural residents have faced in receiving other assistance through USDA county offices. Yet this bill would not provide the funds needed to address the very problems that contributed to the delays. At a time when the farm community is under financial stress and the demand for farm credit and other programs is high, the need for timely and efficient service to producers and rural residents has never been greater. Without the proposed $74 million in funding, it will not be possible to modernize the technology in USDA's local field offices, create "one-stop shopping" for rural customers, and promptly deliver the programs that Congress enacts with available staffing levels.
Conservation and Environmental Programs
The Committee bill appears to cut spending on key USDA conservation programs by at least $140 million from the President's request. The $26 million reduction in the Environmental Quality Incentives program (EQIP) would mean 13,000 farmers and ranchers not receiving needed financial and technical assistance to stop soil erosion, improve waste treatment in animal feeding operations, and implement other voluntary conservation measures critical to protecting our natural resources. To advance this important work further, including addressing the significant backlog of farmers' requests for aid, the Administration requested a $100 million increase in the EQIP program as part of its Clean Water Action Plan. The combination of the EQIP reduction and the Committee's failure to fully fund the request of additional technical assistance to animal feeding operations could damage livestock owners' progress toward ensuring that their operations are environmentally sound and community-friendly.
Other valuable environmental programs would be severely underfunded by the Committee bill, and we urge the Senate to restore funding for them. The Committee has failed to fund the $50 million discretionary portion of the Administration's request for the Farmland Protection Program, which is part of the Administration's Lands Legacy Initiative. America's farmers need these funds to help them stay on their land, through easements that permanently protect 80,000 acres of prime farmland from development. We urge the Senate to provide the $50 million in discretionary funds requested for the program and redirect its savings from the Conservation Farm Option to this program, as well as to the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program to assist over 3,000 farmers in protecting and restoring wildlife habitat.
In addition, the Committee has not provided the $12 million requested in the Conservation Operations account to assess the effects of soil management on carbon sequestration, and $5 million for USDA's initiative to help communities make use of geospatial data to make more informed land use decisions and promote smart growth. The Administration recommends that funds be redirected to these high-priority activities, such as by eliminating the Forestry Incentives Program as requested and as provided for by the House bill.
Outreach for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers
The Committee bill does not provide the requested $7 million increase for the Outreach for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers program. This program has proven effective in mitigating the decline in the number of minority farmers by increasing their participation in agricultural programs, assisting them in marketing and production, and improving the profitability of their farming operations. USDA loan default rates have also improved in areas where this program operates. The requested increase is needed to expand this program beyond the limited areas in which it now operates, to further these farmers' equal access and their opportunity for success, and to continue USDA's work to improve its civil rights performance.
The Committee bill would fund USDA's National Research Initiative at $81 million below the request of $200 million, while providing funding for a large number of unrequested, earmarked research grants. We urge the Senate to increase the funding for competitive research grants and to reduce earmarks for lower-priority programs.
The Administration appreciates the Committee's support for priority USDA rural development programs, such as water and wastewater loans and grants, Business and Industry guaranteed loans, and rental assistance for very-low income rural residents. The Administration is concerned, however, that the Committee bill's funding for Rural Development salaries and expenses would jeopardize effective implementation of these programs. The $25 million, or five percent, reduction from the requested salaries and expenses funding could require Rural Development to eliminate over 400, or six percent, of its staff through a reduction-in-force. We urge the Senate to provide the requested level of funding to ensure an adequate delivery system for these vital programs for rural America.
In addition, the Committee bill's provisions for the Rural Community Advancement Program (RCAP) do not provide the full funding flexibility authorized for the program in the 1996 Farm Bill that was requested by the Administration and included in the House bill. The flexibility to shift funds among programs can better ensure that Federal funds can be adapted to unique local economic and community development needs, and we urge the Senate to lift this limitation.
Commodity Futures Trading Commission
The Administration is disappointed that the Committee mark reduces funding for the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) by $7 million, or 11 percent, from the President's request. This will result in a hiring freeze, difficulty in meeting workload demands, and possible layoffs. We urge the Senate to restore funding so that the CFTC will have staffing sufficient to maintain oversight and integrity of trading on futures exchanges.
Amendment to Non-Immigrant Farm Worker Program
The Administration strongly opposes the provision of the McConnell amendment to the non-immigrant farm worker program adopted by the Committee that would adversely affect the recruitment of legal U.S. farm workers. The first part of this amendment would shorten the time before work begins that an employer must apply for using foreign workers from 60 to 45 days. While this is not objectionable, it is unnecessary because this is part of a Department of Labor regulation that will be published in the Federal Register by the end of the month. The second part, which affects the time the Department of Labor (DOL) issues its certification of the number of jobs that may be filled with guest workers, is objectionable because it substantially shortens the recruitment period for legal U.S. farm workers down to only 3-8 days. This is not long enough to recruit legal U.S. workers fairly and properly, and does not allow for proper certification checks on incoming foreign workers.
Food and Nutrition Service Research
The Administration strongly objects to any provision of the Committee bill that would prohibit the use of Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) funds for research and evaluations on nutrition programs. To address program integrity and performance issues properly, it is crucial that research on nutrition programs also occur in the context of the programs' administration. We urge the Senate to provide funding for these activities within FNS.