Martin Sancho-Madriz

Growing up in democratic and beautiful Costa Rica, I often listened to my father’s stories about the role of Americans in World War II and heard in his voice a deep admiration for the United States. His enthusiasm went as far as his keeping in our home a copy of the U.S. Constitution. Today, I am proud to be a U.S. citizen and to have the honor of working for Senator Charles Schumer of New York under the sponsorship of IFT’s Congressional Science and Engineering Fellowship.

The Fellowship is part of a prestigious program administered by the American Association for the Advancement of Science since 1973. IFT is one of about 30 science and engineering societies in the program. The goals are to provide qualified individuals with a unique public-policy learning experience and to bring technical backgrounds and external perspectives to government decision making.

Fellows go through two orientation programs, one by the Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research Missions (CoFARM) for Fellows in food and agriculture; and the second, for all Fellows, covering aspects of Congressional and Executive Branch operations and the role of science in policy making. Fellows are responsible for finding their own placement. I took a sabbatical leave as Associate Professor of Food Science and Technology from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and accepted a position with Senator Schumer’s office.

Considering the wide range of legislative issues, the role of staff in gathering and analyzing information is essential to members of Congress. On my second day on the job, I was asked to help with a press release about an outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes associated with ready-to-eat meat and poultry products in northeastern states. Senator Schumer introduced legislation during the 107th Congress that would establish microbiological performance standards and traceback systems for livestock and poultry.

Here is an update on some of the Congressional actions during my term so far as Congressional Fellow:

The 107th Congress enacted the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act, known also as the Farm Bill, intended to guide through 2007 the operation of commodity price and income support, conservation, agricultural trade and foreign food aid, food stamps and other nutrition programs, farm credit, rural development, agricultural research and extension, and other programs. The estimated total direct spending in the bill is $273.9 billion over six years (FY2002–07). About 55% ($149.6 billion) of the total direct spending is for food stamps and other nutrition programs. Implementation of the laws is as important as its passage, and one of the tasks of Congressional offices is oversight. In our office, we contact the different agencies within the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture that administer the programs on behalf of our constituents. In addition, we work with other Congressional offices in proposing both legislative amendments and administrative changes to respond to current needs.

On June 12, 2002, the President signed into law the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002. The law is a five-year authorization bill, with $2.4 billion in funding in FY2002 and $2.0 billion in FY2003. The legislation includes provisions to protect the nation’s food and drug supply and enhance agricultural security, including new regulatory powers for the Food and Drug Administration to block the importation of unsafe foods.

At the end of the 107th Congress, FY2003 agriculture appropriations measures were pending. On February 13, 2003, the House and Senate of the 108th Congress agreed to the conference report on the Consolidated Appropriations Resolution for FY2003. For USDA and related agencies, the law contains $74.25 billion, of which $56.7 billion is for mandatory programs and $17.55 billion is for discretionary programs. Among its other major provisions, the new legislation provides $1.45 billion in foreign food aid; increases funding over FY2002 for food safety and animal and plant health inspection activities; and increases USDA food and nutrition program spending by $4 billion over FY2002. Included in the bill is $1.4 billion for FDA, including $159 million for FDA’s counter-terrorism activities.

I encourage all IFT members to apply for the IFT Congressional Fellowship program (see index.shtml). Former AAAS Fellows have called this “a life-changing experience.” As the first Latino who received this award, I especially encourage members from minorities to apply.

2002–03 IFT Congressional Science
and Engineering Fellow