Agriculture Committee giveth and OMB taketh away

Agriculture Committee giveth and OMB taketh away

By Sara Wyant

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Washington, July 14 - House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) wants to know why funds that his committee authorized for specific USDA programs are being used by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to fund other parts of the federal government.

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Peterson says he has asked the Congressional Research Service to investigate exactly which funds have been going where, in a practice called “administrative paygo.” In addition, he plans to hold a congressional hearing on this subject.

Administrative paygo is an internal OMB system set up in 2005 under the Bush administration and continued under the Obama administration. “There does not seem to be any rule, any transparency, and people have no idea how decisions are made” says a Hill source. “In the past, the committee has had a gentleman's agreement with USDA and has given the agency a lot of discretionary authority to do what needed to be done. But under administrative paygo, OMB has wrapped USDA around the axle. For example, if USDA's baseline assumes the CRP to be at 30 million acres and they want to take it to 32 million acres, they now need to reduce spending in other areas to reach that 32 million acre level.”

The Minnesota Democrat said he first uncovered what was going on during the debate over the Standard Reinsurance Agreement with the crop insurance companies. In the final agreement, USDA officials said they wanted to cut $6 billion out of the SRA over 10 years and use $4 billion of those funds to pay down the deficit and another $2 billion to bring the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) back up to 32 million acres.

“I said, wait a minute. We have already authorized the CRP at 32 million acres,” Peterson said in an interview Wednesday morning. “But it turns out that OMB had already capped CRP at a lower level and used part of the money for the Open Access program.The “Open Access” program is another program targeted to CRP lands that was never implemented.

“OMB is not supposed to do that. They are undermining the authority of the authorizing committees,” Peterson emphasized.  

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