BREAKING NEWS: Governor Sonny Perdue Confirmed as Agriculture Secretary

This afternoon Governor Sonny Perdue was confirmed by the Senate to be U.S. Secretary of Agriculture by a vote of 87-11-1. Prior to the full Senate’s vote, Perdue was vetted by the Senate Agriculture Committee on March 30. His confirmation passed through the committee with only Senator Kirsten Gillibrand voting no. Perdue has been a relatively uncontroversial Cabinet pick with Republicans and Democrats being on board with his confirmation.

As Agriculture Secretary, Perdue will head a department that oversees a broad area of programs from crop insurance to nutrition, forestry, rural development, and international trade. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) also houses the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) which is responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), the federal law that oversees the humane use of animals in biomedical research programs.

Perdue is a veterinarian by training, the owner of several small agribusinesses and he was also the governor of Georgia from 2003-2011. Perdue has previously stated that reducing regulatory burden will be one of his goals at the helm of the USDA. Please continue to check your email, follow us on Twitter, or visit NABR.org for the latest news coverage on Secretary Perdue’s confirmation.

White House Calls for $1.2 Billion Elimination from NIH Grants

The White House has announced that President Donald Trump is calling for $1.232 billion in funding cuts from National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant programs. As reported in last week’s NABR Update, the President released his budget proposal for funding the federal government on March 16. To offset a major increase in defense and border security funds, Trump has identified ways to decrease nondefense discretionary spending in FY 17. Included in this supplementary proposal are $1.182 billion in reductions to NIH research grants and $50 million in the elimination of Institutional Development Award (IDeA) grants for FY 17.

Trump’s proposed cuts would undermine the FY 17 spending bill that the Senate Appropriations Committee approved last summer, which included $34.1 billion in funding for the NIH.

Several Members of Congress are not optimistic about these cuts occurring, as the fiscal year has already begun. Representative Tom Cole (R-OK), chairman of the House Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee, told CQ, “It's a little late in the process. We've closed out our bills.”

The government is currently operating on a continuing resolution set to expire on April 28, 2017. To avoid a government shutdown, Congress must approve a budget bill before this date.

18% Cut to NIH, 21% Cut to USDA in President’s Proposed Budget; Regulatory Reform Major Focus

President Donald Trump (R) released his FY 2018 federal budget this morning, and included in the proposal is an almost 20% decrease in federal funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Spending for NIH would decrease from the currently appropriated $31.7 billion to $25.9 billion. The budget states that “major reorganization” and structural changes would occur within the NIH to ensure that resources are refocused on high priority research and training. The President also aims to reduce regulatory burden throughout various federal government agencies, including the NIH, in which administrative costs would be reduced and federal contributions to research funding would be rebalanced. The budget states very clearly that the President plans to remove unnecessary and costly regulations, although it is not yet clear which regulations pertaining to biomedical research would be affected. At this afternoon's White House Press Briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer stated that the NIH must "focus on efficiencies and doing what we do better." To accomplish this, he used combining facilities as an example.

“America First - A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” would reduce funding to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from $84.1 billion to $69 billion, based on the President’s plan to ‘eliminate programs that are duplicative or have limited impact on public health and well-being.” Plans for HHS funding call for reforming public health programs and reforming the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) via block grant programs that would give states more power in addressing statewide public health challenges. Additionally, the proposal would make adjustments to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) initiatives, and includes “a package of administrative actions designed to achieve regulatory efficiency and speed the development of safe and effective medical products.”

Funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture would be reduced by 21 percent, from $22.6 billion to $17.9 billion. The budget would also make major funding cuts in other federal agencies including the U.S. Department of State, Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency. Trump’s primary goal for the FY 2018 budget is to increase federal defense spending by $54 billion, with targeted reductions in other agencies to offset this cost.

The federal government is currently operating on a Continuing Resolution (CR) that is set to expire on April 28, 2017.

Next, the budget proposal will be sent to the Hill, where the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will review it thoroughly. Click here to read the President’s budget blueprint.

BREAKING: Some USDA Documents Back Online

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has reported that some of the enforcement actions documents from the Animal Care Information Service (ACIS) have been reposted to the agency’s website.

As NABR reported, on February 3 USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) removed from its website “inspection reports, regulatory correspondence, research facility annual reports, and enforcement records that have not received final adjudication.” Several animal rights groups, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the Beagle Freedom Project (BFP), Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), Born Free USA, Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and an Animal Law & Policy Fellow at Harvard Law School filed a lawsuit against the department demanding that the database be restored. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) was preparing to file a lawsuit. Just this week, 101 members of the House of Representatives wrote to President Donald Trump (R) expressing concerns with the removal of the database requesting that it be reinstated.

To read USDA’s statement regarding the restoration of the database, please click here.

New Federal Legislation Would Require Broad Reporting of Animal Use Data

Representative Ken Calvert (R-CA) has introduced H.R. 816, the Federal Accountability in Chemical Testing (FACT) Act. The bill would amend the Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Validation of Alternative Methods (ICCVAM) Authorization Act of 2000 and would add a requirement that federal agencies must “include a description of the progress on the development, validation, acceptance, and utilization of alternative test methods (including animal use data by species, number, and test type) for toxicological testing conducted, supported, or required.” In short, Calvert’s bill would require the addition of animal census information for all research species (including rodents) to be included in the biannual ICCVAM report. The legislation would appear to represent an additional reporting requirement for federal agencies. Agencies affected include: USDA, DOD, DOE, Department of Interior, DOT, EPA, FDA, NIH, OSHA and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The impact of this legislation likely extends beyond federal agencies, as a number of them require animal testing to be conducted outside the agency.

The introduction of the bill was stirred by the White Coat Waste Project (WCW), an animal activist organization that aims to end the use of animals in federally funded research. WCW is engaging with Republican members of Congress by claiming taxpayers could save money by eliminating animal research at the federal level. According to WCW’s website, its approach is to “drain the swamp: cut government spending that hurts animals and taxpayers.”

At the time of this writing, the bill has acquired 13 cosponsors: Representatives Ed Royce (R-CA), Vern Buchanan (R-FL), Mike Bishop (R-MI), Dina Titus (D-NV), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Tom Marino (R-PA), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Mike Quigley (D-IL), Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Julia Brownley (D-CA). The bill has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee and will remain alive until the end of the legislative session in December of 2018. For the full bill text, click here.

HHS Secretary Confirmed by Senate Earlier Today

The U.S. Senate has confirmed Representative Tom Price (R-GA) to be U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. Despite efforts by Democrats to delay his confirmation process, he was confirmed early Friday morning by a vote of 52-47.

Sonny Perdue, President Trump’s nomination for U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, will soon be vetted by the Senate Agriculture Committee, although a date for the hearing is yet to be determined. Perdue, a small business owner and veterinarian by training, would oversee a federal department that implements a broad range of programs including USDA’s enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act.

Watch your inbox, visit www.NABR.org, or follow us on Twitter for updates from NABR about Perdue’s confirmation process.

USDA’s APHIS Removes Enforcement Action Database; Information Still Available Through FOIA

UPDATED - February 9, 2017

On Friday, February 3, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) notified stakeholders that during the last year it had “conducted a comprehensive review of the information it posts on its website” and “will remove from its website inspection reports, regulatory correspondence, research facility annual reports, and enforcement records that have not received final adjudication.”  The move impacts information related to research facilities subject to the Animal Welfare Act and entities subject to the Horse Protection Act.

APHIS indicated that such records can be requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and will be released when authorized and in a manner consistent with the FOIA and Privacy Act.  NABR members attempting to access information on the APHIS website will notice changes including deactivation of the Animal Care Search Tool known as ACIS. The only information currently available on the website is a list by name and state of licensed and registered facilities.

The APHIS website changes have been widely reported by news media as an “abrupt removal” of information and animal rights groups have speculated that the changes may be driven by the new administration.

However, it is more likely the changes are related to a federal lawsuit filed by individuals and organizations involved with the horse industry in a February 2016 filing against USDA in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas (Contender Farms vs. USDA). The lawsuit alleges that APHIS’ publication of enforcement actions is unlawful, misleading and falsely identifies thousands of people who never received notice of an alleged violation, never had a USDA complaint filed against them and were never afforded the opportunity for a formal hearing as “violators.”

In reviewing the information currently available to NABR, the net result of this action appears to be that all of the information available on the USDA website related to inspection and annual reports will still be available to anyone who files a FOIA request with the personally identifying information redacted. FOIA requests can be filed here: https://efoia-pal.usda.gov/palMain.aspx.

UPDATE - February 9, 2017

NABR supports transparency for information that serves the public good. Historically we have found USDA enforcement data extremely valuable in tracking and analyzing animal use trends in research. We hope the USDA can strike the proper balance between protecting personal privacy and informing the public as expeditiously as possible.

NABR will continue to report as new information becomes available. Please continue to check your email, visit www.NABR.org or follow us on Twitter.

Your Voice Matters: Contact the President and Congress Today

As we reported last week to our membership, the new Congress has already begun business in Washington for its 2017-2019 legislative session. A total of 55 new Freshman Members of Congress from states and districts across the country are now settling-in to legislate on a full slate of issues, including those that impact biomedical research with animal studies.

In order to introduce these new lawmakers to NABR, its membership, and the various issues facing the future of biomedical research, NABR has sent a welcome letter (log-in required) to them and the rest of the 115th Congress. NABR encourages you to do the same. If you'd like to voice your support for biomedical research in this upcoming Congress and Presidential Administration, please click here to send a pre-written letter to the President, Vice President, both of your Senators, your Congressperson and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This is a tiny investment of your time that will pay significant dividends in terms of educating policy makers about the irreplaceable value of humane animal research.

Please continue to check your email and www.NABR.org for the latest news from NABR and be sure to follow NABR on Twitter to get breaking news instantly.

BREAKING NEWS: Dr. Francis Collins to Continue as NIH Director for Now

According to the Washington Post, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced late yesterday that Dr. Francis Collins, the current director of the NIH, will remain on the job at least temporarily.

An NIH spokesperson said that Dr. Collins has been “held over by the Trump administration,” however it is unclear whether President Donald Trump (R) will formally reappoint him or if he will serve until a possible permanent director is selected. President Trump has asked some 50 senior members of the Obama Administration to stay on to assist in the transition.

Others rumored to be possible candidates for the top post at NIH have been physician and U.S. Representative Andy Harris (R-MD), biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong and Geoffrey Ling, former biotech director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Dr. Collins, a geneticist, became director of the NIH in August of 2009. Because he was confirmed by the Senate during the Obama Administration he would not need to be reconfirmed if brought onboard by President Trump.

For more information on this breaking news, please see the coverage by the Washington Post, Science, and Nature.

As always, for the latest in news impacting the biomedical research community, please visit www.NABR.org or follow us on Twitter.

BREAKING NEWS: Governor Sonny Perdue Nominated as Agriculture Secretary

Former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue (R), was nominated today by President-elect Donald Trump (R) to serve as the 31st U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

A veterinarian by training, Perdue would be responsible for overseeing a federal department that implements a broad range of programs in the areas of farming, natural resources, food safety, animal health, trade and nutrition, to name a few. Of utmost importance to the animal research community is USDA’s enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act.

Perdue is a small business owner and native of Bonaire, Georgia and he served as Governor from 2003 to 2011 where he focused on reducing government waste, improving education and reforming state government. Prior to becoming Governor, he earned his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine degree in 1971 from the University of Georgia and served several terms in the Georgia State Senate.

Agriculture Secretary is the last Cabinet-level position to be nominated by the President-elect. There has not yet been any indication when Perdue’s confirmation hearing will be scheduled.

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