Government Shutdown Update

The longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history ended on January 25, after President Trump agreed to reopen the federal government for three weeks. Lawmakers now have until February 15 to negotiate a deal on border security funding and to pass a series of spending bills for Fiscal Year 2019 to fund nine federal departments, including the USDA.

As a result of the partial government shutdown, most of the USDA was closed from December 21, 2018 until January 25, 2019 – a total of 35 days. During that time, the USDA National Organic Program was unable to perform enforcement activities, including investigations of suspected violations or suspensions of certifiers or operators. The National Organic Program was also unable to conduct its annual certifier training, which had been scheduled to take place at the end of January. The shutdown is also likely hampering work to implement the 2018 Farm Bill, which includes provisions to strengthen oversight of organic imports and to crack down on fraud.

Unfortunately, a second shutdown is possible if lawmakers and President Trump fail to negotiate an agreement by the February 15 deadline. Typically, by now the President would have released a 2020 budget request to kick off the annual appropriations process, but that too has been delayed without a deal in place for Fiscal Year 2019. The Presidents Fiscal Year 2020 budget request is now expected in mid-March at the earliest.

NOC is tracking these issues closely – proposed spending bills for FY 2019 include significant boosts in funding for organic research and enforcement activities at the NOP, but none of these gains can be realized until Congress reaches as agreement. A second shutdown at the USDA would be extremely damaging to the National Organic Program and to the organic community given the critical work that is taking place currently to prepare for the Spring National Organic Standards Board meeting and new regulations to strengthen organic enforcement.

Lea Kone