Ag Policy Blog

Groups Seek to Halt USDA's Relocation Plans for ERS and NIFA

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Update: USDA announced on Friday it was extending the deadline for submitting an interest to house NIFA and ERS until Oct. 15. Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue said, "“There has been considerable interest in housing the headquarters of NIFA and ERS, expressed by universities and localities from around the country. Some stakeholders have relayed concerns about staff summer vacation schedules interfering with the preparation of proposals, and some have asked for more time to have their plans approved by boards of regents, city councils, or other governing bodies. An extra 30 days will give everyone time to get organized and will not interfere with our timeline.”

USDA added it was relocating the agencies: To improve USDA’s ability to attract and retain highly qualified staff with training and interests in agriculture, many of whom come from land-grant universities. USDA has experienced significant turnover in some positions, and it has been difficult to recruit employees to the Washington, DC area, particularly given the high cost of living and long commutes.

To place these important USDA resources closer to many of stakeholders, most of whom live and work far from the Washington, DC area.

To benefit the American taxpayers. There will be significant savings on employment costs and rent, which will allow more employees to be retained in the long run, even in the face of tightening budgets.

With Congress back in session, formal opposition has increased among organizations to USDA's plan announced last month to move the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture out of Washington, D.C.

The American Statistical Association has carried the two and the number crunchers declares USDA's move on ERS is a "penny-wise, dollar-foolish move." Statistical experts and others state USDA's plan will "have a disproportionate and detrimental effect on the farm, food and rural economy."

As a practical matter, the statistics group points out many of ERS's 330 or so employees are not going to move their families and homes, leading to a significant loss of expertise that cannot be easily replaced. The news release cited a former ERS administrator under former President Bill Clinton and President who said small farmers will be affected the most.

"The ERS informs and helps facilitate competitive markets for agricultural products. It's free and publicly available reports help level the playing field for the 1.9 small farmers who don't have the budget to afford the data and analytics provided by the private sector."

The defense of ERS also questions taking away the agency's independence. ERS would move into a policy wing of USDA and that would create conflicts of interest. The agency's independence insulates ERS from focusing data and reports on the Agriculture secretary's agenda and policies.…

Along with the defense of ERS, more than 100 groups wrote Congressional leaders on the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, along with agricultural appropriation subcommittees, as the groups expressed their "serious concerns," with USDA' plan to move the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The groups called on Congress to delay any proposed relocation.

The groups criticized the swiftness of USDA's posting in the Federal Register seeking bids of interest from locations nationally and offering only 30 days for interested parties to submit bids for new locations. The 100-plus groups noted "this rapid timeframe has left the research stakeholder community little time to digest the implications of relocated NIFA."

The groups stated several questions need to be answered before USDA moves NIFA elsewhere. A detailed list of those questions can be found at…

"Today, NSAC joined over 100 other stakeholders in the agricultural research community urging Congress to act in the face of a major upheaval in our nation’s research infrastructure" said Juli Obudzinski, deputy policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. "Not even a month ago, the Trump Administration took the research community and policymakers by complete surprise by announcing the relocation of two major federal agencies outside of the D.C. area. As pointed out in the letter, NSAC and others within the research community have significant concerns with how such a move would impact the agency’s relationship with its stakeholders, policymakers, and other USDA and federal science agencies, and perhaps most importantly, how such a hasty decision made with little to no input from the broader public or current workforce would impact the agency’s ability to carry out its mission and maintain its core functions as an integral part of our nation’s research infrastructure into the future. We fear shunning two critical agriculture research agencies to outside of DC will only further weaken agriculture research as a national priority at a time it badly needs to be growing in stature and funding."

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