Dear Chairman Frelinghuysen, Chairman Aderholt, Ranking Member Lowey, and Ranking Member Bishop,
As you begin work on the fiscal year 2019 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, we urge you to maintain funding for the United Sates Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Salaries and Expenses account. Cuts to this program would endanger the infrastructure for the modern farm economy and we urge you to preserve all ARS laboratories and support the invaluable work performed at these facilities.
The ARS has been a vital agency within the USDA for over a half century. Authorized by the Secretary of Agriculture in 1953, the ARS has acted as the principal USDA in-house agency conducting research focused on developing solutions to high-priority, national-scale agricultural challenges and providing access to scientific information that works to ensure high-quality, safe, and sustainable products that serve the needs of our nation. Not only does the ARS provide scientific advancement tools to our rural communities, it also supports vital research for other USDA programs and agencies and supports the scientific research needs of all federal, state, and local agencies as well as private industry partners to advance the United States interest in the global agricultural marketplace.
The ARS operates through 17 national programs across 43 states and employs 5,522 permanent employees across the country, including over 235 employees in two research facilities in Illinois. In the Fiscal Year 2019 Presidential Budget, 20 ARS facilities are slated for closure, which is an increase of 3 facilities from Fiscal Year 2018 -- despite the committee's clear rejection of the proposal in the FY18 House passed appropriations bill.
In addition to the concern and frustration the repeated proposals to close the labs has on the communities and employees, the Administration is also using the since-funded FY18 proposed lab closures to justify a de facto hiring freeze for the current fiscal year. The committee was concerned about the continued trend towards reductions in on-the-ground agricultural research through proposed cutbacks and consolidations without a clear plan to ensure that research reflects local needs and
growing conditions. As an example of the impact of the hiring freeze, at the National Center for Agriculture Utilization Research (NCAUR) in Peoria, Illinois there are at least 25 research positions currently unfilled. While the lab is able to operate and continue its research mission with 223 full time employees, they have the current capacity for over nearly 350 staff. The hiring freeze is exacerbating resource and staffing challenges directly impacting agriculture research and the economy. As such, we request that you include language in the FY19 appropriation bill to reject the Administration's proposed closure, appropriate sufficient funding for ARS labs to operate at full capacity, and manage hiring and staffing levels consistent with existing congressional funding.
Each dollar invested in agricultural research results in $17 worth of economic impact. The NCAUR houses innovative research in novel industrial and other food products and agricultural commodities and is the designated lead technology transfer facility for the USDA. The lab opened in 1940 and, just a few years later, was the first in the world to mass produce penicillin, saving thousands of lives during World War II. In the 1960s, the lab discovered xanthan gum, an industry now worth $700 million each year. The lab was designated as an International Historic Chemical Landmark in 2001. Today, it's the only ARS lab researching the mass production of medicine to treat diseases in stored crops, diseases that cost our farmers over $1 billion each year. It's also the only ARS lab researching mass production of biologic agents that make ethanol production more efficient. What has traditionally been used to purify fuel fermentation is the same thing used to treat infections: antibiotics. The lab's research not only saves money, but lives -- it means more of our limited supply of antibiotics can be used to treat the more than 2 million people each year infected with resistant bacteria. The benefits of this research touch every aspect of our lives, from the food we eat to the energy that powers our cars. Crop viability, medical breakthroughs, food safety improvements, and agricultural product development are among the innumerable results of our nation's continued investment in agriculture research.
As we look to prioritize spending on high-value federal agencies and programs, we respectfully advocate that the ARS supports this mission. While we understand there are difficult fiscal challenges ahead for our nation, underscoring the work done within ARS and its example of efficient, effective and accountable federal spending to enhance national priorities is something that cannot be understated. If funding is reduced or eliminated and these labs move forward with closure, the impact around the nation and in Illinois would jeopardize the competiveness of our agricultural research and send a strong message to our competitors abroad about our national priorities. Furthermore, cuts could have immediate impacts on our struggling farm economy. These facilities are drivers of economic growth across the country and it is critical that research at these facilities continues uninterrupted.
With the national interest in mind, we appreciate your consideration as you continue your work on the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2018.