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.
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.
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.