The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies held a series of hearings this past week on budget requests for agricultural agencies.
The subcommittee Wednesday held a hearing on rural development programs, taking testimony from USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Doug O’Brien, Acting Administrator for the Rural Utility Service John Padalino, Acting Administrator for the Rural Business-Cooperative Service Lillian Salerno, Administrator for the Rural Housing Service Tammye Trevino and USDA Budget Director Mike Young.
Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R-AL) expressed concern that the budget request does not address the needs of rural America, citing dramatic cuts to successful programs such as the Single Family Direct Loans and Water and Waste Disposal grants. Aderholt also asked for a formal legislative proposal for the $55 million request for the new, unproved Rural Business and Cooperative Grant Program.
The same day, the subcommittee held a hearing on USDA’s natural resources and environment mission areas, with testimony from USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources (NRCS) and Environment Ann Mills, Acting Chief for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Jason Weller and USDA Budget Director Young. Aderholt said NRCS benefits all Americans but is usually not recognized. Aderholt expressed concern with NRCS program and financial management, citing a 2012 outside audit that uncovered deficiencies in NRCS’s financial statements.
Weller said the administration requested $4 billion for NRCS conservation programs, including about $3 billion in mandatory funding and $808 million in discretionary funding. Weller said NRCS enacted a hiring freeze this year – expecting to save $33 million in fiscal 2013 – and saved $22.5 million in travel expenses by increasing the use of video conferencing.
The subcommittee Thursday held a hearing on USDA’s domestic and foreign agricultural services. USDA Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Michael Scuse, Farm Service Agency Administrator Juan Garcia, Foreign Agricultural Service Administrator Suzanne Heinen, Risk Management Agency Administrator Brandon Willis and USDA Budget Director Young testified. Aderholt acknowledged the success of U.S. trade, citing that U.S. exports have exceeded $478 billion over the last four years and will likely set a new record this year. Aderholt criticized USDA for not introducing new efforts for agriculture exports. USDA’s Economic Research Service estimates that for every $1 billion of agricultural exports, an estimated 6,800 jobs are supported and an additional $1.29 billion in economic activity is generated.
The subcommittee Friday held a hearing on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), with testimony from agency Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Budget of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Norris Cochran and FDA Chief Financial Officer Jay Tyler. Aderholt criticized FDA for submitting a budget seemingly identical – and two months late – to last year’s that includes the extension funds programs FDA once described as one-time requests. Aderholt said the subcommittee has been presented with conflicting messages regarding FDA’s needs and priorities.