97032: Agricultural Research,
and Extension Issues in the 105th Congress
Jean M. Rawson
Environment and Natural Resources Policy Division
December 10, 1998
MOST RECENT DEVELOPMENTS
BACKGROUND AND ANALYSIS
Current Laws Authorizing Research,
Education, and Extension
Provisions of the 1996 Farm Act
Structure of the Federal-State Research,
Education, and Extension System
-USDA Agricultural Research Competitive Grants
Proposals in Research Reauthorizing Legislation
The public agricultural research, education, and extension
system is comprised of a nationwide network of federal and state
agricultural research laboratories and departments, land grant
Colleges of Agriculture, colleges of forestry and veterinary
medicine, and the nationwide Cooperative Extension System.
Although the basic authority to conduct agricultural research
and extension programs is permanent, Congress since 1977 has
provided funding authority and policy guidance for USDA's
in-house research programs, and for federal support for
cooperative research, higher education, and extension programs in
the states, through a title contained in omnibus farm
legislation. The most recent omnibus act is the 1996 farm bill (P.L.
Despite the inclusion of a research title in the 1996 Act, the
House and Senate Agriculture Committees considered more extensive
research and extension policy reforms in 1997.
Both the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education
Reauthorization Act (H.R.
2534) and the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education
Reform Act of 1997 (S.
1150) contained measures (1) making recipients of federal
research and extension funds more accountable for the relevance
and merit of the programs the funds support, and (2) authorizing
research initiatives in a variety of high priority areas. S.
1150 contained a controversial provision to pay for the new
research initiatives (along with some child nutrition program
expansions) with mandatory funds saved by reducing federal
funding for food stamp program administrative costs.
A conference committee reached an agreement reconciling the
two bills on March 24 (H.Rept.
105-492). Using $1.9 billion in savings from changes to the
food stamp program and from other sources, the conference report
provides: (1) $600 million over 5 years for an Initiative for
Future Agriculture and Food Systems, a competitive grants program
in the areas of plant and animal genetics, food safety,
alternative uses for agricultural commodities, precision
agriculture and biotechnology; and (2) $100 million in new
funding for the Fund for Rural America. It also spends $818
million on the food stamp program to restore benefits to certain
classes of immigrants, and $485 million to partially fund federal
crop insurance. The full Senate passed the conference report on
May 12 and the House passed it on June 4. The President signed it
June 23 (P.L.
On October 21, 1998, the President signed an omnibus FY1999
appropriations bill that contains funding for USDA's research and
education agencies and programs (P.L.
105-277). The section pertaining to agricultural research is
identical to that found in the vetoed conference agreement on H.R.
4101, the FY1999 agricultural appropriations measure, except
that it contains an additional $7 million for food safety
105-277 provides $1.930 billion overall for research and
education. In a reversal of the newly passed research
reauthorization act, P.L.
105-277 prohibits the allocation of $120 million for the
first year of the Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food
Systems and withholds the $60 million that P.L.
105-185 authorized for the Fund for Rural America for FY1999.
MOST RECENT DEVELOPMENTS
On October 21 1998, the President signed P.L.
105-277, an omnibus appropriations measure
containing funding for several government agencies including
USDA. The act contains $1.930 billion for USDA's research,
education, and economics agencies. This amount is $7 million
above that contained in the vetoed conference agreement on H.R.
4101, the agricultural appropriations measure. The
additional funds are designated for research related to the
President's Food Safety Initiative. With this exception, the
provisions related to agriculture research, education, and
economics programs in P.L.
105-277 are identical to the conference agreement on
BACKGROUND AND ANALYSIS
When President Lincoln established the U.S. Department of
Agriculture (USDA) in 1862, agricultural research was designated
as one of the Department's major functions. Also in 1862,
Congress passed the first Morrill Act, establishing a college of
agriculture in each state (funded by the sale of public land that
the federal government granted to each state). Congress directed
the new schools to educate the rural population in skills that
would help them improve their living standards. In 1887, Congress
passed the Hatch Act, making annual grants to states for state
agricultural experiment stations (SAES). In turn, SAES research
was to support the teaching programs at the agricultural
colleges. In 1890, the second Morrill Act brought about the
establishment of 17 historically black land grant colleges. In
1914, Congress added the extension function to the research and
education components, creating the Cooperative Extension System
(CES) to facilitate the flow of the colleges' research and
teaching programs to clienteles that could benefit from them. In
1994, Congress extended land grant status to 29 tribally owned
103-382) and authorized the establishment of a Native
American Institutions Endowment Fund to support the enhancement
of educational opportunities for Native Americans through these
Significant growth in research by private agribusiness began
with the post World War II boom in the development of new farm
machinery. Private corporations' expenditures for agricultural
research in support of their businesses have exceeded public
investment for many years, but the relative shares have remained
quite stable at about 43% public, 57% private, according to the
National Research Council. Private investment focuses primarily
on applied research on marketable products--e.g., agricultural
chemicals, improved plant varieties, veterinary medicines, etc.
Public investment encompasses similar applied research, but also
includes research in support of USDA's regulatory mission areas,
such as meat and poultry inspection and foreign pest and disease
exclusion, and basic research on fundamental science.
Current Laws Authorizing Research, Education, and
In addition to the early acts that established the structure
of the public agricultural research, education, and extension
system, Congress passed several other laws expanding and
redefining the mission of agricultural research in subsequent
years. In 1977, many of these separate authorities were amended
by one overarching statute -- the National Agricultural Research,
Extension, and Teaching Policy Act of 1977, which was Title XIV
of omnibus farm program legislation, the Food and Agriculture Act
of 1977 (P.L.
The 1977 act was the first comprehensive reform of federal
agricultural research, extension, and education policies in the
system's history. Its direction has remained essentially
unchanged for 20 years: subsequent omnibus farm acts in 1981,
1985, and 1990 made relatively minor changes to the 1977 research
title and related statutes. During that same period, budget
constraints at the federal and state level, and changes in
science and in public demands for benefits from science began to
pose new challenges for the federal-state research, education and
extension system. In light of this, the bipartisan leadership of
the House Agriculture Committee expressed an interest in
undertaking a more comprehensive review of the farm bill's
research title when the debate began on renewing omnibus farm
legislation in 1995.
When the omnibus farm bill came to conference in the spring of
1996, the Senate version contained some changes to the primary
research authorizing statutes and included several provisions
reflecting policy changes that had been proposed by the
Administration. The House conference document essentially
reauthorized the 1990 farm law research title (P.L.
101-624), but only through FY1997, in order to maintain the
impetus for the comprehensive review it still intended to pursue.
In conference, the House receded to most of the Senate's research
title provisions, but Senate conferees agreed to permit most of
the provisions to expire at the end of FY1997 unless superseded
by new law.
Provisions of the 1996 Farm Act.
Title VIII of the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act
of 1996 (P.L.
104-127) provided a two-part funding authorization for
research and extension: all major programs were reauthorized for
funding in accordance with the act's language through FY1997; in
FY1998-2002, the Secretary was authorized to conduct research,
education, and extension activities consistent with annual
appropriations acts, under generic funding authority. This
funding authority has been superseded by P.L.
105-185, the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education
Reform Act of 1998, which was enacted on June 23, 1998.
The 1996 farm act also established (and authorizes through
FY2002) a new, 30-member National Agricultural Research,
Extension, Education and Economics Advisory Board to replace the
Joint Council on Food and Agricultural Sciences, the National
Agricultural Research and Extension Users Advisory Board (both
established in the 1977 act) and the Agricultural Science and
Technology Review Board (established in the 1990 farm law). The
Administration proposed this measure in 1995, stating that the
boards' effectiveness had waned and that they had not had
adequate funds to fulfill their mandates. Several other advisory
boards pertaining to specific research areas were also
Title VIII required the new Advisory Board to establish a
Strategic Planning Task Force to develop a 10-year plan for the
construction, consolidation, modernization and closure of
federally supported research facilities. In addition, the
Secretary is to institute a merit review process for all
proposals for new funding for agricultural research facilities on
land-grant campuses. Once the strategic plan is completed, its
recommendations are intended to have a major impact on the merit
review process for new facilities. The strategic plan was due in
August 1998, but has not yet been released.
Another major duty of the new Advisory Board is to evaluate
the effectiveness of research and extension programs with respect
to the policies and priorities that the Board establishes. To
help this effort, the act requires USDA to develop a research
tracking system that improves upon or replaces the Current
Research Information System (CRIS). CRIS was developed in the
1960s as a research project inventory. The new system will be
designed to be a management information system to track
expenditures, evaluate research outcomes, or assist the strategic
planning and priority setting process.
Among other provisions, Title VIII also authorizes grants to
public high schools, 2-year community colleges and junior
colleges for agricultural science and business education; and $20
million for education grants to Hispanic-serving institutions.
The rural development title of the 1996 farm act, Title VII,
also contains two provisions relating to agricultural research.
The first represents a significant departure from past funding
policies for agricultural research, which has always been part of
USDA's discretionary funding budget. For the first time, mandatory
funding is authorized for competitive agricultural research
grants for certain purposes. Section 793 of the rural development
title calls for $300 million to be transferred in the period
between January 1, 1997, and FY2000 from the U.S. Treasury into a
"Fund for Rural America." Based on a
1995 draft proposal of Senator Lugar's, the rationale for the
Fund is that if producers are gradually receiving less federal
support under the new commodity policies of the 1996 farm law,
then they should be assisted with a steady flow of new
technologies to improve productivity and profitability.
The law states that one-third of the annual allocation is to
be used specifically for research to address a wide range of
subjects with potential benefits for farm and rural communities
(administered by CSREES); another third is for rural development
projects (administered under USDA's rural development mission
area); the Secretary has the authority to apportion the remaining
third between research and rural development.
The FY1997 supplemental appropriations bill that President
Clinton signed on June 12, 1997 (P.L.
105-18) reduced the initial transfer of Treasury funds into
the Fund by $20 million (leaving a total of $80 million). The
reduction was shared equally by both the rural development and
research parts of the program, leaving $36.1 million available
for research grants in the first funding cycle.
The new research reauthorization bill, P.L.
105-185, extends the program through FY2003 and authorizes an
additional $100 million for the Fund for Rural America from
projected savings in administrative costs under the food stamp
program. The conference report on P.L.
105-492) directs that the $300 million total be allocated to
USDA over 5 years in $60 million annual increments rather than
the $100 million annual increments stipulated in the 1996 farm
act. However, the omnibus appropriations act for FY1999 (P.L.
105-277) prohibits the FY1999 allocation of $60 million to
The second research-related provision of Title VII
reauthorizes the Alternative Agricultural Research and
Commercialization Corporation (AARC). Congress
established the AARCC in the 1990 farm law (P.L.
98-624) to help business overcome the financial risks of
commercializing new nonfood products -- developed through
research -- from agricultural commodities. Through a competitive
peer review process, the Corporation selects commercialization
projects, forms cooperative partnerships with the businesses
involved and provides various types of bridge funding (with a 1:1
matching requirement). Part of the returns from the marketplace
on the new product go to repay the bridge loan and replenish the
Corporation's revolving fund. The Corporation is housed
administratively in USDA's Rural Business-Cooperative Service,
but it reports to the Undersecretary for Research, Education, and
Economics as well as to the Undersecretary for Rural Development.
Relatedly, the research reauthorization bill, P.L.
105-185, creates a new Office of Energy Policy and New Uses
within the Office of the USDA Secretary. Among other
responsibilities, the new office is to coordinate pilot projects
to bring new "biobased products" to the point of
practical commercial use.
The 1996 act authorizes $75 million annually through FY2002 to
capitalize the AARC revolving fund. Actual appropriations for the
AARC have averaged around $6.3 million since FY1994. The FY1998
appropriations act provides $7 million for the AARC. The
Administration's FY1999 budget requests $10 million. The vetoed
conference report on the FY1999 agriculture appropriations bill
provided $3.5 million for the AARC, so that is the level
contained in the omnibus spending act. The Senate funding
2159, would have maintained level funding for the AARC's
activities; the House-passed version of H.R.
4101 contained no funding for the program.
Structure of the
Federal-State Research, Education, and Extension System
USDA's largest in-house research agency, the Agricultural
Research Service (ARS), employs about 1,800 scientists at more
than 100 federal laboratories in the United States and overseas
(the ARS Web page is http://www.ars.usda.gov/).
About 30% of ARS's work is done in support of USDA's regulatory
agencies, such as the Food Safety and Inspection Service and the
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The rest of its
mission is to undertake basic and applied research in areas that
serve broad, national priorities, such as human nutrition or
plant genetics research. The National Agricultural Library was
merged with ARS in the 1994 USDA reorganization.
USDA's other in-house research agencies are the National
Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS; its Web site is http://www.usda.gov/nass/),
the Economic Research Service (ERS; its Web site is http://www.econ.ag.gov/), and
the research arm of the Forest Service (although the last is
administered under the Natural Resources and Environment mission
area of the Department). NASS conducts USDA's program of
collecting and publishing current national and state agricultural
statistics, and in 1996 assumed responsibility for conducting the
Census of Agriculture (formerly done by the Department of
Commerce). ERS provides economic and social science analysis on
agriculture, food, natural resources, and rural America. The
Forest Service allocates about $185 million annually to a
research program on forest biology, ecology, and forest products.
The 1994 USDA reorganization merged the former Cooperative
State Research Service and the Extension Service into the
Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service
(CSREES; its Web page is http://www.esusda.gov/).
The agency does not conduct in-house research, but instead
provides federal funds and planning support to the states for
their research and extension programs. CSREES allocates federal
support for the state agricultural experiment station and
Cooperative Extension Service in each state according to formulas
found in the Hatch Act of 1887, as amended, the Smith-Lever Act
of 1914, as amended, and the National Agricultural Research,
Extension, and Teaching Policy Act of 1977. (These formulas use
factors pertaining to farm and rural population.) Under different
formulas, CSREES also distributes funds for forestry and
veterinary research. In addition, the agency administers
competitive grants to the land grant institutions for improving
their agricultural curricula and assisting undergraduate and
graduate students. Finally, the agency also administers the
Special Grants program, the National Research Initiative (NRI)
competitive research grant program, the Sustainable Agriculture
Research and Education (SARE) program and other smaller research
There are roughly 12,000 scientists (all state employees) in
the national network of land grant schools and their associated
state agricultural experiment stations (SAES). Of the federal
dollars going to SAES, CSREES is the source of about 51% (Hatch
Act formula funds alone account for about 10%); the remainder
comes from other USDA grants and contracts, and from other
agencies such as the National Science Foundation, the National
Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, etc., according
to the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). The share that
these non-CSREES agencies constitutes of SAES funding is rising.
Federal funds generally are considered a critical factor in
leveraging state and private funds in support of SAES research.
Another growing source of revenue for some of the land grant
agriculture colleges is the sale to private firms of licenses on
patented research products. Investment by private corporations
and commodity groups in research at the publicly supported
colleges of agriculture is currently the fastest growing funding
source according to OTA, although it still represents only about
7.2% of total support for SAES research.
The Cooperative Extension System employs approximately 32,000
people (state and county) and involves 2.8 million volunteers in
its continuing education programs in all 50 states. About half of
CES programs focus on agriculture and natural resources,
one-quarter on youth development (including the vocational 4-H
program), and the balance on home economics and community
resource development work. On average, federal funds account for
30% of CES's funding, state funds for 50%, and county funds for
Within individual states, the actual percentage that federal
funds represent of the total funding for both the SAES and CES
ranges widely around the 30% average: in some states federal
support may account for only 10% or less of total funding; in
others, it may constitute more than 50%. The decisions on how to
allocate those federal dollars to specific local SAES and CES
programs are made at the state level. As a result, the ability of
the Congress and USDA to influence the direction of the research
and extension system as a whole is somewhat limited.
(For further details on the structure of the system and a
chronology of permanent legislative authorities for research and
extension programs, see CRS Report 97-325 ENR, Agricultural
Research, Extension, and Economics Programs: A Primer.)