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National Drought Policy Commission (NDPC)

Minutes - July 22, 1999 Meeting

The following summarizes the proceedings of the National Drought Policy Commission (Commission) meeting held on July 22, 1999, in Washington, D.C. The summary is based on staff notes and review of the meeting video.  Attachment 1 provides a copy of the meeting agenda; attachment 2 provides a list of the meeting attendees.

1. Opening Remarks  Secretary of Agriculture, Dan Glickman

Dan Glickman, Secretary of Agriculture welcomed the other Commissioners to Washington, D.C., and thanked his colleagues, Senator Domenici and Congressman Skeen of New Mexico (NM) for attending. Glickman pointed out, using a Palmer Index Map, that drought may strike anywhere in the United States (U.S.). Unlike in past years, rainfall appears to be in the normal range in the Great Plains and Midwest, while drought is affecting the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, the Pacific Northwest and parts of the Southeast. The agricultural sector is most sensitive to drought. The situation is further complicated by the present agricultural economic crisis with current low prices for row crops and livestock and inadequate safety nets for farm economy. The Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Congress are working on a disaster bill emergency package. However, the country needs a longer-term drought strategy. The Commission should leave no stone unturned to recommend a drought policy with a coordinated approach and solid risk management.

2. Legislative Sponsors= Vision

Senator Pete Domenici, NM  Since the 1995-1996 drought in NM and Texas, Senator Domenici has worked with many others to develop a coordinated response to drought in NM. Experience with the Western Drought Coordination Council and Drought Task Force led to the realization that the country needed to establish a national policy for this unique emergency disaster where the damages are subtle at the onset but linger. Droughts are not just a western phenomenon. Agencies must coordinate and be better prepared up front. Senator Domenici stated that Congress will pay attention to recommendations.

Congressman Joe Skeen, NM  With drought eminent in Central NM again this year, Congressman Skeen is very concerned and is looking for a coordinated, comprehensive drought policy for the whole country. He recommends constructive comments with the following priorities: 1) no Federal supremacy over state water law; and, 2) local, State, and Federal coordination. Congressman Skeen acknowledges that funding may be perceived as inadequate for USDA committees that come under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). The Ag appropriation committee increased USDA's FACA spending allowances for fiscal years (FY) 1999 and 2000 specifically citing the National Drought Policy Commission as a priority.

Questions from the floor

John Baker  USDA attorneys have interpreted the National Drought Policy Act to only allow the federal administrators on the Commission to have designees; not the governors or other non-federal Commission members. The governors do not agree with this interpretation, nor do they believe that it was the intent of Congress that the non-federal members be treated differently than the federal members. Is it possible to pass a technical amendment that would clarify this issue?

Senator Domenici  The Act did not intend for Governors to be treated differently than the Administrators of Federal Agencies. Congress did hope that Commission participation would be kept at the highest administrative level possible rather than delegated to lower level employees. If necessary, I will work with Congress to add an amendment to the Act. It should not be a problem.

Secretary Glickman said that it may not be necessary to change the law to accommodate non-federal designees. Instead, a congressional statement may be able to be made to explain the congressional intent on the issue.

Eluid Martinez  With the Commission being appointed so late, there is only six months left of the time allowed by law to deliver a report. Could the time be extended?

Senator Domenici  We would like to keep the pressure on to deliver a report as soon as possible. It would be better to work on it for a few months, see where you are, and then ask for an extension, if needed.

3. Secretary Glickman Closing Remarks   Once a disaster declaration is made for a drought in a State, recipients find that there is no flexibility for agricultural relief, in either USDA or the other agencies and they are often disappointed. For USDA, we need the flexibility that other Departments have to respond to disaster, especially drought.

4. Review of National Drought Policy Act (the Act) and FACA Regulations - Leona Dittus, Executive Director

The Act describes eight duties of the Commission: 1) in consultation with the National Drought Mitigation Center, describe needs caused by a drought; 2) review and inventory Federal laws and programs related to drought; 3) review and inventory State, local, and tribal laws and programs that relate to drought; 4) describe gaps between needs and programs provided at the local, State, and Federal levels; 5) consider regional initiatives such as the Western Drought Coordination Council (WDCC) and others; 6) provide recommendations on how to better integrate Federal, State, local, and tribal programs into a coordinated national policy without diminishing states= rights and, except Forest Service (FS), protecting the environment; 7) provide recommendations on improving public awareness of the need for drought mitigation, and prevention; and response on developing a coordinated approach to drought mitigation, prevention, and response by governmental and non governmental entities, including academic, private, and nonprofit interests; and 8) provide a recommendation on whether all Federal drought programs should be consolidated under one Federal Agency, and if so, who.

A brief summary of FACA regulations was provided. These regulations require that all meetings and public hearings be open to the public and advertised in the Federal Register no less than 15 and no more than 45 calendar days before an event. A FACA spending cap is imposed on USDA, except for expenditures of the Forest Service (FS). USDA salaries, except FS, are charged against USDA=s spending allowance. Funds and pro-grata services from other Federal Departments are exempt.

5. Commission Objectives and Goals - Members

Ane Deister  In her experiences with WDCC, she found that what contributed to their success was that they met and communicated frequently. Issues, that surfaced as priorities, were data sharing, data integration, and coordination between agencies and interest groups.

John Kelly, Jr.  As part of the Department of Commerce and as Director of the National Weather Service(NWS), Mr. Kelly=s expertise includes observation (monitoring) and prediction of drought. State-of-the-art scientific methods for prediction are currently available but, in some cases, are not yet fully implemented. The NWS will continue to improve these methods and integrate them into operational products. From an observational point of view, only parts of the system are in place with sensors being inadequate in many locations and systems not integrated with full predictive capability. This Commission should work to define a Drought Program with sufficient flexibility to eliminate the need for any future drought commissions.

Ronald Morriss  In the nation, there are 3066 counties represented by thousands of local officials in the National Association of Counties (NACo). County officials, municipal and tribal officers are truly closest to the American population and in times of drought, these local officials are the best barometer for the needs of their impacted community. We need resources and assistance at the local (county and tribal) level. NACo supports the USDA=s Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program to promote means to address the nation=s water conservation and quality needs.

Larry Zensinger  With the Stafford Act of the 1970's, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was authorized a wide range of activities to address emergency disasters. Drought is identified in the Stafford Act but the needs of drought victims don=t fall in the range of programs that FEMA is set up to provide. A single point of contact for disaster emergencies is efficient, but drought needs specialized skills for mitigation, preparedness, and response.

Leon Smothers  Coming from an Eastern state, Mr. Smothers assured the Commission that drought was not a uniquely Western problem. However, receiving an average of 48 inches of rain a year can make public education about drought a problem. Most Federal agencies in the East are more technically prepared for floods than for drought. As an example, most farmers in Kentucky, in his experience, are not fully informed about crop insurance. With potential water wars starting in the East over this present drought, there is a lot of potential for regional, interstate coordination. In the East, the environment (especially aquatic habitat) and water supplies are often affected by drought before agriculture.

Brian Schweitzer  As a family farmer/rancher from Montana, Mr. Schweitzer would want a national drought policy to have buy-in from and directly assist the local private landowners, farmers, and ranchers. Often help comes too little, too late. The Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Farm Service Agency - USDA do have offices to assist farmers locally but they often do not have the right tools.

Brian Burke  The Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) completed a 4-year, $5 million water management study in Sept. 1995, that also summarizes past reports. ACOE, in general, does not have authority for drought response. His suggestion for a process would be to use previous reports for specific recommendation steps and do not reinvent the wheel.  Also, do not try to create another agency because funding will never be available for it. With specific deliverables, a cadre of Federal executives will be able to implement policy.

John Baker - From his home state of Texas, Mr. Baker experienced a serious drought in 1996 and found that help was available, but it was not clear where to get the help from Federal programs. Also, if a drought is not widespread, where do you get help? He agreed with other members that the Commission needs a better definition of drought: weather phenomena vs. water deficit? The Commission should consider all sources of innovation and their implications. For instance, weather modification techniques that have been used in Texas have been controversial but effective in some areas.

Eluid Martinez  Representing DOI and as the Commissioner of Bureau of Reclamation, Mr. Martinez sees Federal resources as limited. There are difficult questions to answer. How will we distribute those limited resources or money fairly the area with drought impacts of 20% every 5 years, 50% every 5 years, or 20% in 20 years? What defines a drought disaster that can be fairly applied throughout the country and also protects the environment? The Commission should focus on responding to the requirements of the Act.

Robert Miller As President of the Intertribal Ag. Council and a livestock rancher,

Mr. Miller remembers the drought of 1953-56 in Oklahoma when you could play marbles on the tall grass prairie. Coming from an area where ponds and creeks are ephemeral, the timing of a drought is critical as to whether it spells economic disaster or not. The old emergency drought livestock feed programs were helpful and many livestock operations could have used those programs in 1998 in our area.

Sam Katherine Campana  City governments and communities are most concerned with safe drinking water and look to a definition of supply and demand for drought. With the 1980 mandate for groundwater protection in Arizona, communities there have learned that pro-active activity is as important as response. Funding should come with any mandates that are proposed.

Robert C. Bob Brown Representing the credit business, the most important aspect of drought response relief in Agricultural communities is to keep money in the economy. The worst scenario is to allow the farm to be sold off. The agricultural community needs insurance for cost of production in all 128 commodities.

Ernesto Rodriguez  Mr. Rodriguez also emphasized that the Commission should work with past studies and not reinvent the wheel. Through experience in disaster relief in NM, he has seen that loans are only available after the effects of a disaster are experienced. There should be more national emphasis on public awareness of drought and drought preparedness.

Bernard Kulik (represented by Jane Pease)   The Small Business Administration (SBA) sees three areas of emphasis for the Commission to consider: 1) comprehensive scope; 2) coordinated effort; and 3) targeted effort. When agencies are working with different laws, authorities, triggers, and definitions, certain groups may fall through the cracks. SBA may only work with agribusiness, not farmers. Should an agency's limited resources be used to fund repeated disasters or for mitigation?

Harold Reheis  High rainfall areas such as Georgia have special problems when the rain doesn=t fall at the right time. It is difficult to develop water resources for communities, under Federal laws. The Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Environmental Protection Act make it difficult to develop water reservoirs so that water can be stored by cities, industries, or farmers to use in a drought situation. We need more coordination between Federal agencies. The Commission should cull information from other reports.

There was general discussion by the group as to what the definition of drought should be for the Commission. This was a critical issue for the group but was not resolved with this discussion. Neither the Act nor the WDCC=s report addressed this topic to the Commissioners= satisfaction. Further study is needed.

6. Western Drought Coordination Council's Report to NDPC - John Baker and Dep. Secretary Rominger (Al Peterlin spoke for Rominger)

The Western Drought Experience, WDCC's report to the NDPC was distributed to the Commissioners and is available at the Western Governors' Association (WGA)Website at The report presents a comprehensive vision for future drought management. Critical elements include: Monitoring, Assessment, and Prediction; Preparedness and Mitigation; Response; and Communications. Implementation of this vision should improve efficiencies at all governmental levels; communication and response to the public; greater responsibility through pro-active actions; and a more diverse range of management options available to decision makers.

Recommendations include using WDCC as a model; linking a national oversight group to regional groups for program delivery; designating a lead Federal agency or group to produce a national drought assessment report; developing a national situation report; expanding the WDCC Historical Drought Impact Survey data base; evaluating and updating the Catalog of Federal Assistance Programs; raising awareness of drought issues through national and large scale media markets; making monitoring and assessment data accessible via the Web; supporting funding for maintenance and modernizing weather, water, and climate monitoring and assessment including State, local, and tribal interests; developing better and more extensive information on snow pack, extent and water content for the Northern parts of the Midwest and East; developing long-term soil moisture and groundwater reference networks; and making legislative recommendations to incorporate incentives for drought mitigation at all levels and to provide funding for drought preparedness. Think out of the box by reviewing the 1996 FEMA drought report and the WGA's Drought Action Plan for additional ideas. An example would be considering alternatives to previous livestock feed assistance programs including rangeland/pasture crop insurance.

7. Working Group Preview - Warren Lee, Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA

Not only may drought strike anywhere in the U.S., but occurs on a regular basis across the world and doesn't follow political boundaries. There have been many studies of drought including the WDCC's work, FEMA's 1996 report, and the Corps of Engineer's National Drought Study. Internationally, Australia has recently developed a national policy where their strategy calls for greater alliance on risk management and mitigation and less on response mechanisms.

Confusion and frustration persists across the U. S. as to what assistance is available in preparing for drought, mitigation and response. Billions of dollars have been spent in recent years for drought response, and yet most of the same individuals and communities face the same risk for future droughts. Since 1980, crop insurance payments have grown substantially with most of the payments going to cover drought damages versus flooding. Also, only about 40 percent of farmers use crop insurance as a risk management tool.

Five working groups were established to start inventorying information before the first Commission Meeting: Agriculture; Municipal and Industrial Water, Environmental Issues; Local Government, Community, and Business; and Monitoring and Prediction. The informal working groups were predominantly comprised of federal agency representatives, and therefore their findings reflect a predominantly federal perspective. As part of the working groups' efforts, past reports surfaced some common needs. They were: a comprehensive monitoring system; framework that encourages preparedness, mitigation, risk management, and cooperation; strengthened intergovernmental response partnerships; and drought related information networks. Inventorying primarily the Federal programs, the working groups expanded the Catalog of Federal Assistance Programs. They found many sources of assistance but no coordinating mechanism for an organized response to drought.

A summary of the current situation from the Federal side was that: monitoring and prediction are inadequate; drought response programs are scattered through many agencies with different trigger mechanisms; activation of response programs tends to be ad-hoc; and there is no single point of contact for access to Federal programs. Estimates in USDA for 1998 show that approximately $2 billion was spent on drought disaster relief while less than half of that was spent on risk management (insurance payments), mitigation and monitoring.

Needs that the working groups have identified so far are: a national drought policy; an accurate, early warning, monitoring, and prediction system; functional drought contingency plans at all levels of government and the private sector; clear articulation of roles of each level of government for monitoring, mitigation, and response; comprehensive information and education programs on drought; broader insurance coverage for livestock and crops; better data and information on drought costs; access to technical and financial assistance for mitigation and response; access to credit in times of drought emergencies; additional research and development on drought mitigation measures; additional risk management tools; and adequate supplementary supplies of safe drinking water for agriculture and other uses.

8. Administrative Procedures - Leona Dittus, Executive Director

The NDPC Organization, Structure, Rules and Responsibilities were reviewed, discussed, and approved with minor changes, primarily to revise the time line. The Commission's estimated budget for FY 1999 and FY 2000 and USDA's FACA spending limit were reviewed. Funds for the NDPC may be sufficient for this FY since the majority of the meetings, hearings, and work will be performed next FY. However, funds will be very short for FY 2000 if the activities of the Commission are extended. No administrative funds were appropriated for the Commission. The Commissioners discussed future meetings and public hearings. No specific dates or locations were identified at this time, but will be determined after a revised budget is prepared.

9. Assignments and Scheduling - Members

1) Request from Congress a 6 month extension of the deadline to submit a final report to the President and Congress, and direct staff to do everything possible to get the job done in 4 months.

2) Assign staff to develop operational working definition of drought for the Commission.

3) Develop strawman of first draft of National Drought Policy document in 90 days and prior to any more public hearings.

4) Use public hearings as a sounding board for the public to critique the strawman report. Use the constituency and interest group reaction to develop a final draft report. Public hearings may be held concurrently outside the Washington, D.C. area and hosted by a Commissioner. Will hold as many public hearings as budget will allow.

5) Delay selection of the Non-Federal Vice-Chair of the Commission until all non-Federal members have been officially appointed.

6) Executive Director will reformulate budget for the Commission based on most of the meetings and public hearings being held in FY 2000. Within reason, the Commission will not limit activities due to constraints of the present budget.

7) NDPC Organization, Structure, Roles and Responsibilities is accepted as presented with the exception of preparing a revised time line based on a 4-month extension. The time line should contain specific milestones relating to the eight duties specified in the Act. Commissioners agreed that the working groups should focus on the fact-gathering required in duties 1-5. Development of policy options, as required by duties 5-8, including the work done by the informal working groups prior to June 11, should consider all public input received through the public comment period. The Commission members would like periodic updates as to the progress of the report.

8) Commissioner members will confirm in writing their official Interagency Contact.

At-large Commission members are encouraged to select an individual to represent them on this group. All Commission members should review the working group lists and add representatives to those groups as they feel are necessary.

9) The Commissioners requested (with a quorum on 7/23/99) that the next Commission meeting include a public hearing the day before the meeting to prime the pump for discussion of the strawman policy document.