March 18, 2011
One very distressing casualty of the continuing series of Continuing Resolutions that are keeping the government open but cutting funding week by week is the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, known as ATTRA. ATTRA’s $2.8 million was cut entirely in H.R. 1, the House-passed full-year Continuing Resolution from mid-February and that proposed program termination was unfortunately including among the $6 billion in cuts adopted by Congress this week in the new short-term Continuing Resolution keeping the government operating through April 8.
The justification for cutting ATTRA appears to be a misperception that it is an earmark. Indeed, like earmarks, many Senators and Members of Congress request funding for ATTRA every year, as they do for many programs. However, unlike earmarks for projects in specific congressional districts, ATTRA is a nationwide program, authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill, and it has been included in presidential budgets through many administrations over several decades. As provided in the Farm Bill, it is funded through a cooperative agreement between USDA and a national non-profit organization with expertise in sustainable agriculture and information delivery. USDA currently operates the program through a cooperative agreement with the National Center for Appropriate Technology.
NSAC strongly objects to cutting this exemplary program that for over 20 years has provided important research-based information to people nationwide annually, many of whom have no other reliable source of information. In 2010, its staff answered over 60,000 requests to ATTRA’s 1-800 call line and brought over 5.8 million unique visitors to its website, from which there were over 4.3 million publication downloads. Its workshops and other in-person presentations reached 177,000 attendees from 45 states. ATTRA is an extremely efficient program whose elimination by the House cannot be justified by any genuine interest in budget savings.
NSAC is working hard with the program’s many other supporters to correct the misperception of ATTRA as an earmark and to restore its funding in early April when Congress considers yet another Continuing Resolution, this one likely to last for the rest of the fiscal year.