Obama expands, strengthens USDA's Biopreferred program

By Erin Voegele | February 23, 2012

President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum on Feb. 21 to expand and strengthen the USDA BioPreferred program. The directive aims to drive innovation and job creation in rural America through biobased and sustainable product procurement.

The BioPreferred program, established by the 2002 Farm Bill and strengthened by the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, is designed to increase federal procurement of biobased products, which promotes rural economic development, creates new jobs, and provides new markets for farm commodities.

According to information released by the White House, the goal of the memorandum is to ensure that executive departments and agencies effectively execute federal procurement practices for biobased products. In the memorandum, the president directs to take several steps to increase federal procurement for biobased and sustainable products. According to the directive, these steps include requiring:

- Agencies to include and report on biobased acquisition as part of the sustainable acquisition goals and milestones requirement of the Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan

- Agencies to ensure that 95 percent of applicable new contract actions for products and services advance sustainable acquisition. This includes acquisition of biobased products in their Affirmative Procurement Programs and Preferable Purchasing Programs, as well as including biobased products as part of their procurement review and monitoring program and providing appropriate training on procurement of biobased products for all acquisition personnel, including requirements and program staff.

- The Office of Management and Budget is directed to emphasize biobased purchasing in the fiscal year 2012 and 2013 Sustainability/Energy scorecard

- The Secretary of Agriculture to increase the number of categories of biobased products and designated and individual products eligible for preferred purchasing by 50 percent within one year

- The Secretary of Agriculture to establish a web-based process that allows product manufacturers to request that USDA establish a new product category for designation, and if the product category is deemed eligible by the USDA to propose designation within 180 days of the request

- Senior sustainability officers and chief acquisition officers of all agencies to randomly sample procurement actions to verify that biobased considerations are included as appropriate, and the results of the sampling efforts are to be included in Sustainability/Energy scorecard reported to OMB

- The Secretary of Agriculture to work with relevant officials in agencies that have electronic product procurement catalogs to identify and implement solutions to increase the visibility of biobased and other sustainable products

- Senior sustainability officers of all agencies that have established agency-specific product specifications to review and revise all specifications under their control to assure that wherever possible and appropriate those specifications require the use of sustainable products, including USDA-designated biobased products, and that any language prohibiting the use of biobased products is removed. The reviews are to be completed on a four-year cycle, with a significant review completed within one year.

- The Secretary of Agriculture to amend USDA’s automated contract writing system to serve as a model for biobased product procurement throughout the federal government by adding elements related to acquisition planning, evaluation factors for source selection and specifications and requirements. Once complete, the amended model is to be shared with all agencies.

- The Secretary of Commerce use relevant department programs to improve the performance and competitiveness of biobased product manufacturers

- The Secretary of Agriculture to work cooperatively with Procurement Technical Assistance Center programs across the nation to provide training and assistance to biobased product companies to make them aware of the BioPreferred program and the opportunities it offers

- The Secretary of Agriculture to develop training for small businesses on the BioPreferred program and its opportunities. This must be done within six months. Once complete, the Administrator of the Small Business Administration is to disseminate it to Small Business Development Centers and feature it on the SBA website.

- The Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council to propose an amendment to the Federal Acquisition Regulation to require reporting of biobased product purchases to be made public annually

- The Secretary of Agriculture to develop a reporting template to facilitate the annual report requirement once the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council’s amendment is promulgated

- The Secretary of Agriculture to prepare a report on job creation and economic impacts associated with the biobased product industry and submit it to the president through the Domestic Policy Council and OSTP within two years. The study is to include the number of American jobs originating from the biobased product industry annually over the last decade, including job changes in specific sectors, the dollar value of current domestic biobased products industry, including intermediates, feedstocks, and finished products (excluding biofuels), a forecast for biobased job creation potential over the next 10 years, a forecast for growth in the biobased industry over the next decade, and jobs data for both biofuels and biobased products, with a separate data generated for each category

- The Secretary of Agriculture to update all existing USDA BioPreferred and related sustainable acquisition training materials within one year

- The senior sustainability officers and chief acquisition offers of agencies to work cooperatively with the Secretary of Agriculture to work with actively with the Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled to promote education and outreach to program, technical and contracting personnel and to purchase card holders on BioPreferred AbilityOne products

The Biotechnology Organization has spoken out in support of the memorandum. “The USDA’s BioPreferred program provides important federal leadership that can expand consumer demand for renewable products made from biomass, such as agricultural residues and energy crops,” said BIO President and CEO Jim Greenwood. “Biobased products meet consumer demand for items that are affordable and healthier for the environment. The United States is well positioned to use its leadership in biotechnology, agricultural productivity and manufacturing innovation to build a biobased economy.”

Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s Industrial & Environmental Section added that expanding biobased production can reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil while generating new jobs in the manufacturing, agricultural and forestry sectors. “The biobased product industry already employs more than 50,000 people in the United States and can generate tens of thousands more in the next five years,” he continued. “Policies that provide technology neutral support to biobased products and renewable chemicals, such as the BioPreferred program, can help the industry continue its progress.”