Now that the political scene is becoming somewhat established in Washington D.C., work has begun in earnest to investigate the feasibility of establishing a check off program for the natural stone industry. A prominent Washington government relations and lobbying firm with success in establishing and advising check off boards has been hired to assist us in the process. This firm also has relationships with key decision makers in the Congress and the Executive Branch who will be important in authorizing and administering any natural stone check off program. We have had several meetings with leading members of Congress and their staffs to determine their willingness to work with us. Although there are still many unknowns, we are encouraged by the progress made to date.
We are concerned by some of the misinformation that has been circulating around the industry regarding the nature of check off programs in general and more importantly, the role that the NSC is playing in pursuing check off as a viable method for funding the ongoing research and promotion of natural stone in North America.
There are several main steps required in the process of establishing a check off program.
(1) The first is to clarify the appropriate Federal agency to administer and oversee the natural stone check off. In our case, we are presently working with the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, which have the most experience in Congress with check off programs, including jurisdiction over a generic authority framework for administering various agricultural check offs through the Department of Agriculture. With the support of these Committees, we would propose to clarify the current law “generic” authority for establishing and administering check offs to include natural stone. To do so would require Congress to pass legislation amending that law to authorize the creation of a Natural Stone Research and Promotion Board (NSRPB).
(2) Armed with this authority, we will need to seize the opportunity to do the serious work of figuring out exactly how the program will work. This phase is likely to take some serious time and effort as the industry sets the parameters for the program and works through the specifics of how money is collected, who it is collected from, who serves on the NSRPB and how it functions, how the money is spent, etc. This is all the detail work. The USDA will offer help based on their experience with other check offs, but it is really up to our industry to figure these things out. If successful, this will be our program and we will choose how it should run.
(3) Once we have accomplished these first two steps, only then will the matter of proposed check off, with all of the necessary details specified, be presented to the appropriate Federal agency (in this example USDA) with a request that an “order” be issued to implement the program.
(4) At this point, we will have all the details in front of us and it will be up to us to decide whether or not we want to implement our work. The USDA will send each qualifying importer and domestic producer a ballot. If the industry referendum passes, USDA will work with our industry to nominate board members and make appointments. USDA will then step back and provide oversight to make sure the board is acting in a manner consistent with its charter and the board will proceed to setting policy, budgeting, hiring staff and getting on with the business of industry research and promotion.
These are the main steps to implementing a check off program and right now we are at step one. Depending on developments, the program could be authorized and administered through USDA, or through another mechanism. The FAQ documents we have begun circulating throughout the industry and the increase in communication about the program have been developed to explain how the program might work to those we are meeting with in Washington and to begin the dialogue within our own industry about what we are trying to accomplish on behalf of our industry. Many of these details are subject to change as we do the hard work of building consensus on the details as described briefly above in step two.
The program has political and practical sides, neither of which can exist without the other. The political process of obtaining Federal authorization is as important as the practical side of obtaining industry agreement. The proposed check off program is effectively a self-imposed fee, created and administered by our own industry with oversight only (not controlled) by the Federal Government. The assessment fee will be determined in an equitable way so no one industry segment will benefit at the expense of another. In fact, part of the USDA’s role is to ensure that industry segments are properly represented. We will be in a position to direct these funds to the issues that we believe are important to us in research and promotion. Examples might be technological, safety, environmental, etc. advancements as a result of research and the promotion of all natural stone products.
It has been suggested that the NSC is attempting to push a check off program on our industry without giving industry members a chance to learn and understand what it is all about. In fact, the NSC is doing the due diligence necessary to make sure when the time comes to vote on whether or not we want a check off program to fund ongoing research and promotion in support of the natural stone industry, we will all be able to make an informed decision. To draw conclusions now without the benefit of working through the details of how a program like this could work for us would be premature.
We hope this document and the others included in this issue of the NSC Quarterly Update help you better understand what the NSC is doing on your behalf. We believe the goals of the NSC are worth pursuing and we know they will require significant industry support. Without a reliable source of significant funding on an ongoing basis, much of what we are trying to accomplish for our industry will not be possible.
Members of the NSC Board of Directors