The chief administrator for USDA's Agriculture Research Service says it's "full speed ahead" for his organization, despite the very real possibility of budget cuts by Congress.
Edward Knipling, spoke to conferees this week at a joint meeting of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission and Oklahoma Peanut Commission in Stillwater, Okla., at ARS's facilities at Oklahoma State University.
Dr. Edward Knipling, USDA Agriculture Research Service administrator, says his agency will continue its programs until final funding questions are answered. While ARS has been spared cuts in the past, Knipling says this year's climate in Washington may be different.
Acknowledging a 35-40% growth in federal support over the past five to six years, Knipling told his audience the current controversies over lobbying in Congress, the expense of the War in Iraq, and the costs of rebuilding the storm-damaged Gulf Coast will very likely result in reduced funding for the 9000-employee agency.
"The outlook is less certain than it has been in the past," he explains. "We'll probably see some flattening in growth or some retrenchmentâ€¦" particularly with Congress likely to try to reduce the federal deficit.
Knipling says his agency's current $1.1 billion budget is targeted in President Bush's latest budget for an 11% cut in funding, plus a 9-10% reallocation of funds within ARS. Those reallocations, he says, will be from current budgets to areas of "higher national priority" - such as research on:
- Avian flu detection and prevention.
- Animal health.
- Invasive species
- Human nutrition and food safety.
- Environmental conservation concerns.
- Climate change.
While other Administration budgets have been presented in the past that would have cut ARS funding, lawmakers increased funding instead. Knipling says because of budget pressures and today's political climate, this year's outcome could be different.
"Congress will deal with the President's budget by October 1, or a little later," he says, and during that time we must plan budgets 2007 and begin work on allocations for 2008. Although some of that will be a guessing game, we'll continue on full speed ahead with the programs we have - until we know the final outcome of the budget battles."