Saturday, September 22, 2012

Chimp welfare advocates need to lobby Congress for federal funding for new sanctuary space

Yesterday, the National Institutes of Health said they are retiring 110 chimpanzees from research. We have so much to celebrate with that decision. It is, after all, what so many of us are fighting for. Stop using chimps in bioinvasive research! Let these chimpanzees live in peace.
The chimpanzees are being transferred out of the infamous New Iberia Research Center, which is not renewing a federal contract that is expiring in August 2013. (Nature ran a good article on how NIH recently cleared New Iberia of breaking a federal breeding ban, despite 130 infants being born to NIH-owned parents between 2000 and 2010. Those chimpanzees will stay with New Iberia.) Almost immediately, some groups complained that only ten of the chimps were going to Chimp Haven, an accredited sanctuary for retired research chimpanzees. The other chimps will be sent to Texas Biomedical Research Institute a laboratory in San Antonio, Texas. As Humane Society’s Wayne Purcell explains, NIH director Francis Collins told him that “NIH will be classifying all of these chimpanzees as ‘permanently ineligible’ for use in research, so there’s no risk that these chimps moved to Texas would be placed back into research.”
Chimp Haven posted a statement last night, pointing out that “the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance and Protection Act of 2000 states that federal chimpanzees no longer used in research be retired to the National Chimpanzee Sanctuary, which is operated by Chimp Haven.” They acknowledge, however, that while they have room for 20 of the New Iberia chimps, any additional space is only partially constructed. I imagine they ran out of money.
So, where will Chimp Haven, or any sanctuary, get the money to build new sanctuary space for these chimpanzees, and for the others who will hopefully be retired soon? Unless chimpanzee welfare advocates act, federal funding options look bleak, at least for the near future.

Last June, I wrote a blog post asking what do we do with the lab chimps? While I join so many who lament the slow process of saving these chimps, I have to admit that the answer to my question may ultimately rest on the shoulders of a working group, set up by NIH, to consider the fate of a thousand chimpanzees. They will make recommendations to NIH in January, and hopefully one of those recommendations will be to send the research chimpanzees to sanctuaries and zoos around the country. But even if NIH anticipated those recommendations, it is highly doubtful that they can start sending money to groups now, to build new housing or sanctuary space. (Let me add a caveat here, that NIH may indeed have a cache of cash somewhere, that could be used for construction, but I don’t know about it. Knowing the funding shortfalls that federal agencies are currently working under, however, I think it is highly doubtful.)

As I understand it, Congress must decide whether to pay for new sanctuary space. Congress can eternally tell agencies to “perform [name the function]," but it is the appropriations legislation that funds it -- and without money, agencies cannot do what Congress directed them to do. I've seen cases where the agency asks for funds for an activity required by a law or regulation, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) knocks it out of the President's budget request. Or it is in there, but Congress decides to cut funding. Or a whole host of other scenarios. But the point is that advocates must FIGHT FOR THE MONEY.
The federal budget process is arcane and complex. But let’s look at the status of the budget for NIH and other agencies...
NIH’s part of the federal budget is discretionary; that is, Congress must approve and renew funding each year in order to continue agency operations. The federal fiscal year 2013 starts on October 1, and when Congress fails to pass appropriation bills that provide funding for federal agencies, they enact a "continuing resolution.” A CR allows the government to temporarily continue operating at the previous year's funding levels. As Fox News reports (do they deliberately misspell the President’s name?), Congress just enacted a CR that funds NIH and the rest of the federal government at 2012 levels. No new spending until Congress passes (and the President signs) appropriation bills, and that won't happen until next spring, at the earliest.
For now, unless funding for building new sanctuary space was included in the 2012 budget (which is about to expire), it isn’t covered in the CR, and there will be no new or increased funding until Congress passes the 2013 budget.
Now, will NIH ask for funding for new sanctuary space? That, it seems to me, is within the purview of the Working Group on the Use of Chimpanzees in NIH Research. I don’t see how they can fail to recommend it, but even if they do, the earliest budget would be for fiscal year 2014. Stay with me here…
The working group’s recommendations are due in January. We may think there is plenty of time for the President to include any funding requests in his annual detailed budget proposal for fiscal year 2014, usually delivered in February, but, in fact, the process of assembling the 2014 budget is already well underway. (Federal agencies are making their case NOW, internally within the Administration, for budgets that will begin in October 2014.) Unless NIH is asking for the funds before they officially receive the working group’s recommendations, funding for new sanctuary space will not be in the President’s budget request.
Regardless of whether NIH asks for the funding, or whether the President includes it in his budget request, Congress has to appropriate it. And here is where the ape welfare advocacy is, so far, lamentably missing in action.
Last spring I met with former congressional appropriations staff members. No animal welfare advocacy group had come to them to discuss funding, they said. They hear from the groups that get federal money, but rarely from any advocacy groups. Maybe things have changed since these staffers left Congress and turned into lobbyists, but I haven’t seen it. For the most part, animal welfare organizations go all out asking for support for this bill or that bill, and focus on public hearings for substantive legislation , but they aren’t involved in the process that counts: deciding who gets the money, and how much, and for what purpose.
So, what do we do? I strongly recommend that chimpanzee welfare advocates join forces and hire a lobbyist who can work with the complex appropriation process. Sanctuaries and the animal welfare organizations need to make sure that increasingly scarce federal funds get to NIH so construction can begin in earnest. I understand that many advocacy groups are not allowed to spend money to lobby Congress. So maybe it is time to start a new organization, specifically and solely focused on political and legislative advocating for the chimpanzees, with the moral backing of the great ape community. It is never too early to start. In fact, we are running late.


  1. Once again Dawn, you have educated us on important issues. Thanks for continuing to write so clearly about issues that can be so complex !!

  2. I agree that those who care need to do more to get these chimps free from their suffering. One more letter or phone call is all it takes sometimes to get results to help the apes.