Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Federal land and facility giveaway to two lobbying organizations


[Update 11/28/2005: Arizona Tribune Covers Federal Land Giveaway documented by Porkopolis]

At BizzyBlog's request, this post will boil "down to its essence" the research detailed in 'Senators DeWine and Voinovich vote to transfer federal property and land to lobbying groups' which has morphed into a story that involves more than the aforementioned Senators.

The recent agriculture appropriations bill (H.R. 2744) has a provision (SEC. 783) in it that transfers the Western Cotton Research Laboratory (WCRL), to two lobbying organizations: the Arizona Cotton Growers Association (ACGA) and Supima.

The Agriculture Department's original intent, via the budget submitted by the President, was to sell the WCRL along with its sister facility, the U.S Water Conservation Lab (USWCL), and then use the proceeds to build a new joint facility, the U.S. Arid-Land Agricultural Research Center (USALARC).

Instead of two facilities being sold to fund the new joint facility, just one will be sold and the other is being conveyed to the ACGA and Supima.

To justify the conveyance (the terminology used in the legislation) of the WCRL, Congressman Pastor of Arizona, Congresswoman DeLauro of Connecticut, Congressman Kolbe of Arizona and Congressman Bonilla of Texas, at a minimum, told their colleagues in the House of Representatives that the land for the WCRL was originally donated to the U.S. Government by the ACGA and Supima. The donation was for the purpose of building a research facility that would benefit the cotton growing membership of these two lobbying organizations.

In addition, they argued, the WCRL was moving its operations to a new facility. More on that in a moment.

As a result of the approved conveyance, the ACGA and Supima will get back the land they donated; a very valuable piece of land at that. They also get to keep all the improvements and facilites that have been added over the years to the donated land.

But what the representatives conveniently left out when making their argument for the conveyance is that the ACGA and Supima will continue to benefit from the research conducted at the new Western Cotton Research Laboratory which will be relocated at the U.S. Arid-Land Agricultural Research Center.

The new joint facility is being built at a cost of $28 million to U.S. taxpayers. The portion attributable to the operations of the WCRL alone has yet to be determined, but it is reasonable to assume that it will be a fair portion of the $28 million.

The expense borne by the taxpayers could have, would have and should have been lessened if the old facility/land was sold and the proceeds used for the new facility. That in fact was the original intent of the President's budget submitted to Congress. Selling the old Western Cotton Research Laboratory would also be in keeping with the spirit of the donation made by the two lobbies that originally intended to promote research on their behalf by the federal government.

Instead the two lobbying organizations get back their originally donated land. As for the new research facility built at taxpayers' expense...that's just the cherry on top of the dessert Congress and the President have served up for these two lobbying groups. A great deal for ACGA and Supima; a bad deal for Uncle Sam.
The actions taken in this conveyance represent an abdication of government oversight at best and lobbying influence at the taxpayers' expense at worst.

More Summary Details:

It took a bit to see the 'forest for the trees', but evidence is provided here that shows that Congress went against the original intent of the President to sell the Western Cotton Research Lab and then use the proceeds to fund a new facility.

A sister facility, the U.S. Water Conservation Lab is being sold, as per the original request, and the proceeds of this sale, unlike those of the Western Cotton Research Lab, will be utilized for the new joint facility.

As noted in [Update 11/19/2005: Curiouser and Curiouser], Sec. 757 of the original bill voted out of the Committee on Appropriations (HR 2744 RH , Report No. 109-102) had the following reference:

SEC. 757. Notwithstanding 40 U.S.C. 524, 571, and 572, the Secretary of Agriculture may sell the US Water Conservation Laboratory, Phoenix, Arizona, and the Western Cotton Research Center, Phoenix, Arizona, and credit the net proceeds of such sales as offsetting collections to its Agricultural Research Service Buildings and Facilities account. Such funds shall be available until September 30, 2007 to be used to replace these facilities and to improve other USDA-owned facilities.

Note the "Such funds shall be available until September 30, 2007 to be used to replace these facilities...". This represents the original intent as expressed in the President's budget, see: [Update 11/20/2005: President's original request (via Agriculture Department) was to sell the Western Cotton Research Lab]

But as we now know, the final appropriations bill (H.R. 2744) ended up with two different provisions for each of the facilities; the Western Cotton Research Lab and the U.S Water Conservation Lab---one sold away (Sec. 761) and the other given away (Sec. 783)

Sold away:

SEC. 761. Notwithstanding 40 U.S.C. 524, 571, and 572, the Secretary of Agriculture may sell the US Water Conservation Laboratory, Phoenix, Arizona, and credit the net proceeds of such sale as offsetting collections to its Agricultural Research Service Buildings and Facilities account. Such funds shall be available until September 30, 2007 to be used to replace these facilities and to improve other USDA-owned facilities.

Given away:

SEC. 783. As soon as practicable after the Agricultural Research Service Operations at the Western Cotton Research Laboratory located at 4135 East Broadway Road in Phoenix, Arizona, have ceased, the Secretary of Agriculture shall convey, without consideration, to the Arizona Cotton Growers Association and Supima all right, title, and interest of the United States in and to the real property at that location, including improvements.

As has been shown in [Update 11/19/2005: Following the money and moving to top] , the Arizona Cotton Growers Association and the National Cotton Council of America have made substantial contributions to Congressman Pastor, the original sponsor of a bill ( H.R. 400) to give the site away to the the Arizona Cotton Growers Association and Supima.

There may or may not be a connection to the conveyance and the political contributions documented. At a minimum, they allow for suspicion and a plausible motivation for having an act of Congress and a President's signature sought in the conveyance of a valuable piece of real estate to two lobbying organizations.

H.R. 400 noted that the Arizona Cotton Growers Association and Supima originally donated the land to the U.S. government, but they also received the benefit of a lot of U.S. taxpayer funded research, see: [Update 11/16/2005: Congresswoman Schmidt votes for provision and value of research conducted at lab].

And now the Arizona Cotton Growers Association and Supima will continue to benefit from U.S. taxpayer funded research in a brand-spanking-new facility at the U.S. Arid-Land Agricultural Research Center:



The U.S. Arid-Land Agricultural Research Center will integrate the Western Cotton Research Laboratory and the U.S. Water Conservation Laboratory on a 20-acre site at the University of Arizona, Maricopa Agricultural Center. The 97,000 ft2 research center will house 31 research scientists and over 90 research and administrative support personnel. The mission of the new research center is to develop sustainable agricultural systems, protect natural resources, and support rural communities in arid and semi-arid regions through interdisciplinary research. Research topics include crop management, integrated pest management, irrigation technology, remote sensing, water reuse, crop breeding and physiology, and global climate change. The new facility is scheduled to be completed in mid-2005.
At least two reports (1st, 2nd) note that this facililty will cost $28 million in federal dollars. (More will be reported here in the near future from a Freedom of Information Act request detailing the prorated cost of the Western Cotton Reserch Lab.)

Here in lies the cheating asserted by Porkopolis:

Whatever the proportional cost associated with the Western Cotton Reserch Lab, U.S. taxpayers won't have the benefit of sale proceeds from the old lab that could have and should have been utilized to offset the costs of the new facility, as originally intended, because that facility now belongs to two lobbying organizations; the Arizona Cotton Growers Association and Supima.

There are many people we can thank for this starting with:

1. Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro (Democrat 3-CT) who submitted an amendment H.AMDT.230 to HR 2744 RH which was approved in the House on 6/8/2005; via a voice vote. See [Update 11/19/2005: Curiouser and Curiouser] for the full details.

2. All the wimps in Congress that voted via a voice vote instead of getting their votes on record for this amendment...you all know who you are.

3. Congressman Kolbe of Arizona who stood up in support of the amendment when it was offered by Congresswoman DeLauro.

4. Congressman and Chairman Bonilla who also stood in support of the amendment even though he had an opportunity to include it in HR 2744 RH, the bill voted out of his subcommittee.

5. Congressman Pastor who Congressman Bonilla noted "has worked very hard on for some time" for the conveyance as evidenced by H.R. 400.

6. All of our Representatives that claim to represent us but allowed H.AMDT.230 to pass via a simple voice vote.

7. All the non-sponsoring Representatives (original vote, conference vote) and Senators (orginal vote, conference vote) that voted on a piece of legislation with a provision like this without apparently reading it. (Porkopolis is prepared to be corrected on this assertion. If you learn that your representative voted for this conveyance with full knowledge of its implications, please post a comment or email me with the details. Email is delgados129 *At* hotmail.com )

8. The President, who signed this bill into law.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very good. It looks like if we're going to pick on S.O.B.-area Congresscritters, we need to throw Chabot and Boehner into the mix on this too. They voted yes in both items in Number 7, and so did Davis of Northern Kentucky.

Looking forward to FOIA results, and also wondering if there is a law against giving away government property that maybe should have been cited and wasn't and could be used as a basis for challenging the conveyance.

Tom
BizzyBlog

I'm putting a post that will appear early Friday afternoon that will link back to this.

Happy Thanksgiving.

November 23, 2005 at 8:41 PM  
Anonymous Eric Kephas said...

Excellent digging.

November 25, 2005 at 1:51 PM  

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