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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Horse Slaughter Prevention Bills and Issues


Tadlock Cowan
Analyst in Natural Resources and Rural Development

In 2006, two Texas plants and one in Illinois slaughtered nearly 105,000 horses for human food, mainly for European and Asian consumers. In 2007, court action effectively closed the Texas plants, and a state ban in Illinois closed that plant. However, horses continue to be shipped to Mexico and Canada for slaughter, and several states have explored opening horse slaughtering facilities. Animal rights activists and advocates for horses continue to press Congress for a federal ban. Lawmakers have prohibited the use of funds or user fees for inspection of horses for human food in several years’ appropriations measures, including FY2010 (P.L. 111-80). Pending at the start of the second session of the 111th Congress were bills (H.R. 503, S. 727) that would have made it a crime to knowingly possess, ship, transport, sell, deliver, or receive any horse, carcass, or horse flesh intended for human consumption. The bills were referred to the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security and the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, respectively, and no further action was taken. No bills concerning horse slaughter have been introduced in the first session of the 112th Congress.


Date of Report: May 18, 2011
Number of Pages: 10
Order Number: RS21842
Price: $29.95

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Issues and Challenges for Federal Geospatial Information


Peter Folger
Specialist in Energy and Natural Resources Policy

Congress has recognized the challenge of coordinating and sharing geospatial data from the local, county, and state level to the national level, and vice versa. The cost to the federal government of gathering and coordinating geospatial information has also been an ongoing concern. As much as 80% of government information has a geospatial component, according to various sources. The federal government’s role has changed from being a primary provider of authoritative geospatial information to coordinating and managing geospatial data and facilitating partnerships. Congress explored issues of cost, duplication of effort, and coordination of geospatial information in hearings during the 108th Congress. However, challenges to coordinating how geospatial data are acquired and used—collecting duplicative data sets, for example—at the local, state, and federal levels, in collaboration with the private sector, are not yet resolved.

The federal government has recognized the need to organize and coordinate the collection and management of geospatial data since at least 1990, when the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) revised Circular A-16 to establish the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) and to promote the coordinated use, sharing, and dissemination of geospatial data nationwide. OMB Circular A-16 also called for development of a national digital spatial information resource to enable the sharing and transfer of spatial data between users and producers, linked by criteria and standards. Executive Order 12906, issued in 1994, strengthened and enhanced Circular A-16, and specified that FGDC shall coordinate development of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI). On November 10, 2010, OMB issued supplemental guidance to Circular A-16 that labels geospatial data as a “capital asset,” and refers to its acquisition and management in terms analogous to financial assets to be managed as a National Geospatial Data Asset Portfolio. It will likely take some time, and several budget cycles, to track whether agencies are adhering to the “portfolio-centric model” of geospatial data management outlined in the supplemental guidance. The 112
th Congress may examine its oversight role in the implementation of OMB Circular A-16, particularly in how federal agencies are coordinating their programs that have geospatial assets.

The high-level leadership and broad membership of the FGDC—10 cabinet-level departments and 9 other federal agencies—highlights the importance of geospatial information to the federal government. Questions remain, however, about how effectively the FGDC is fulfilling its mission. Has this organizational structure worked? Can the federal government account for the costs of acquiring, coordinating, and managing geospatial information? How well is the federal government coordinating with the state and local entities that have an increasing stake in geospatial information? What is the role of the private sector?

State-level geospatial entities, through the National State Geographic Information Council, also embrace the need for better coordination. However, the states are sensitive to possible federal encroachment on their prerogatives to customize NSDI to meet the needs of the states.

In early 2009, several proposals were released calling for efforts to create a national Geospatial Information System (GIS). Language in the proposals attempted to make the case for considering such efforts part of the national investment in critical infrastructure. Congress may consider how a national GIS or geospatial infrastructure would be conceived, perhaps drawing on proposals for these national efforts and how they would be similar to or differ from current efforts.



Date of Report: May 18, 2011
Number of Pages: 22
Order Number: R41826
Price: $29.95

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Geospatial Information and Geographic Information Systems (GIS): An Overview for Congress


Peter Folger
Specialist in Energy and Natural Resources Policy

Geospatial information is data referenced to a place—a set of geographic coordinates—which can often be gathered, manipulated, and displayed in real time. A Geographic Information System (GIS) is a computer data system capable of capturing, storing, analyzing, and displaying geographically referenced information. The federal government and policy makers increasingly use geospatial information and tools like GIS for producing floodplain maps, conducting the census, mapping foreclosures, congressional redistricting, and responding to natural hazards such as wildfires, earthquakes, and tsunamis. For policy makers, this type of analysis can greatly assist in clarifying complex problems that may involve local, state, and federal government, and affect businesses, residential areas, and federal installations.

Examples of how GIS and geospatial data are used within and outside the federal government are growing rapidly. In this report, a few examples are provided that describe the real-time or near real-time data analysis in the case of a California wildfire; policy analysis in support of a Base Realignment and Closure decision in Virginia Beach; and analysis of foreclosure patterns using census and other data for the New York City area. An additional example is provided demonstrating the burgeoning interaction of GIS and social media. In this case, Japanese citizens collected and provided census records, maps, and other information—a variant of “crowdsourcing”— to a GIS team. The team assembled the information into data layers supporting an interactive map to assist humanitarian organizations working in areas of Japan damaged by the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami.

Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-16, first issued in 1953, gives direction for federal agencies that produce, maintain, or use geospatial data. OMB Circular A-16 has been revised and updated in 1967, 1990, and 2002. Most recently, the Obama Administration issued supplemental guidance to Circular A-16 that labeled federal geospatial data a capital asset and referred to its acquisition and management in terms analogous to financial assets. How well these “assets” are managed depends, in part, on how the federal government is structured to organize and coordinate its geospatial enterprise. That structure is embodied in the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC), comprising 10 cabinet-level departments and 9 independent agencies. OMB Circular A-16, via its revisions and supplemental guidance, as well as Executive Order 12906, issued in 2004, gives the FGDC primary responsibility for developing the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI). The NSDI can be thought of as the infrastructure for federal geospatial “assets,” or the means by which federal geospatial data are acquired, processed, distributed, used, maintained, and preserved.

The 112
th Congress in its oversight role may have an interest in the programs and geospatial assets belonging to most federal departments and agencies within the framework of the NSDI. This report describes some of these programs to give a sense of the breadth and complexity of the federal geospatial enterprise.


Date of Report: May 18, 2011
Number of Pages: 23
Order Number: R41825
Price: $29.95

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Humane Treatment of Farm Animals: Overview and Issues


Tadlock Cowan
Analyst in Natural Resources and Rural Development

Animal welfare supporters in the United States have long sought legislation to modify or curtail some practices considered by U.S. agriculture to be acceptable or even necessary to animal health. Members of Congress over the years have offered various bills that would affect animal care on the farm, during transport, or at slaughter; several proposals were introduced in the 111th Congress, although no further action was taken on the bills. No bills have been introduced in the 112th Congress. Members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees generally have expressed a preference for voluntary rather than regulatory approaches to humane care. Meanwhile, animal welfare supporters have won initiatives in several states to impose some care requirements on animal producers.


Date of Report: May 9, 2011
Number of Pages: 9
Order Number: RS21978
Price: $19.95

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Conservation Reserve Program: Status and Current Issues


Tadlock Cowan
Analyst in Natural Resources and Rural Development

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), enacted in the 1985 farm bill, provides payments to farmers to take highly erodible or environmentally sensitive cropland out of production for 10 years or more. It is the federal government’s largest private land retirement program. The program is administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), with technical assistance provided by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. The CRP also has several subprograms, the best-known of which is the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP).

The 2008 farm bill (P.L. 110-246) reauthorized CRP through FY2012, but reduced the maximum acreage level to 32 million acres, down from the previous cap of 39.2 million acres. Criteria for haying and grazing on CRP land were amended, and incentives were authorized to assist socially disadvantaged and beginning farmers in leasing or purchasing land under a CRP contract. A draft supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) on the 2008 farm bill changes to CRP was completed in February 2010. On May 14, 2010, an interim rule was published in the Federal Register to implement the Transition Incentives Program. On September 27, 2010, another interim rule was published implementing other provisions of the 2008 farm bill. The final SEIS was available for public comment for a 30-day period beginning June 18, 2010. A final rule is expected by mid-year 2011. Following a review of the comments by FSA, a record of decision (ROD) for the CRP SEIS will be issued.

The national enrollment as of March 2011 stood at 31.2 million acres. Approximately 4 million acres of farmland was added through a general sign-up (number 39) in summer 2010, nearly 57% of which was acreage under contracts set to expire September 30, 2010. This was the first general sign-up since 2006. Approximately 84% of total CRP acreage is currently enrolled under general sign-ups. A new general sign-up (number 41) began March 14, 2011, and ended April 15, 2011. There was also a continuous enrollment sign-up during late spring and summer 2009 (number 37) that added 488,000 acres to CRP totals. Continuous sign-up 38 began in October 2009 and will continue to October 2011. That sign-up has added 607,454 acres as of March 2011. Continuous sign-up 40 for FY2011 added 30,690 acres in March 2011 and now totals 120,295 acres. Total continuous sign-up acreage is over 5 million acres as of March 2011.

For FY2011, total CRP rental outlays are estimated at $1.85 billion, approximately the same as for FY2010. This projected total includes funding for rental payments, cost-share payments, and incentive payments. The average per-acre rental payment for general sign-ups is currently $45.87, and the average rental rate for CREP is nearly $129.93 per acre. The average rental payment for all CRP programs is $55.09 per acre.

Between 2007 and 2010, 27.8 million acres under CRP contracts expired. Contracts for approximately 24 million (86%) of these acres have been renewed or extended. On September 30, 2009, contracts on approximately 3.9 million acres were set to expire. USDA announced a signup for contract extensions that ran from May 18 to June 30, 2009. Of the expiring 3.9 million acres, however, only about 1.5 million were offered extension contracts. About 55% of the eligible expiring acreage was in four states: Colorado, Kansas, Montana, and Texas. As of December 2009, participants holding contracts on 1.1 million acres originally set to expire September 30, 2009, had accepted extension offers (73%). Contracts on an additional 4.4 million acres expired September 30, 2010. Approximately 75% of that expiring acreage has been reenrolled or had its contracts extended. On September 2011, 4.4 million acres will expire.



Date of Report: May 11, 2011
Number of Pages: 15
Order Number: RS21613
Price: $29.95

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