WASHINGTON (DTN) -- The Purdue University area in Indiana, the greater Kansas City region and the Research Triangle area of North Carolina are at the top of the Trump administration's short list of places to move most of the employees of the Agriculture Department's Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
But St. Louis, Missouri, and Madison, Wisconsin, are also still in the running, according to an Agriculture Department news release Friday.
"This short list of locations took into consideration critical factors required to uphold the important missions of ERS and NIFA," Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in the release. "We also considered factors important to our employees, such as quality of life."
Perdue added, "Relocation will help ensure USDA is the most effective, most efficient, and most customer-focused agency in the federal government, allowing us to be closer to our stakeholders and move our resources closer to our customers. Our commitment to the public and our employees is to continue to be transparent as we proceed with our analysis."
The move would affect as many as 300 ERS employees and around 235 NIFA employees. Both agencies have seen their staff numbers decline over the past two years.
But the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the American Statistical Association, which have organized stakeholders in opposition to the move, said Friday the moves are still a bad idea.
"We are deeply disappointed that the administration continues to push forward its ill-conceived plan to relocate two of our country's premier research agencies," said NSAC, a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform "supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities."
"The administration's relocation and reorganization plan has been resoundingly criticized by countless experts and stakeholders -- including members of Congress and even USDA ERS employees themselves, who are currently organizing a unionization effort to stop the relocation. If the secretary insists on turning a deaf ear to the cacophony of opposition to this move, a litany of negative ramifications are in store," NSAC said.
"The uprooting of these core research agencies will undoubtedly weaken our national research infrastructure by triggering the loss of valuable staff expertise, isolating the agencies from the DMV's [Delaware-Maryland-Virginia peninsula's] robust community of scientists and federal partners, and leaving agricultural research out of the critical policy debates centered in our nation's capital. In fact, the ripple effects of this strong-arm relocation effort are already being felt.
"Both ERS and NIFA are currently operating with significantly reduced capacity, as the lack of support and investment from this Administration increasingly pushes experienced researchers and experts to seek other employment. Those employees that have chosen to stay are actively fighting for the integrity of their agencies by mobilizing a unionization effort, which NSAC applauds. Ultimately, however, the fate of ERS and NIFA rests with Congress.
"Congress has the power to save ERS and NIFA from banishment from the nation's capital. We urge every member of Congress to unite and stand strong against this move to ensure that future generations of farmers have the research and tools they need to continue feeding their neighbors and stewarding our natural resources for generations to come."
Ron Wasserstein, executive director of the American Statistical Association (ASA), said, "Any gains that USDA asserts will result from relocating ERS and NIFA away from our nation's research, food and agricultural policymaking are overwhelmingly outweighed by the detrimental impacts."
"Further, USDA has neither made a compelling case for such an upheaval nor listened to their own stakeholders, experts and leaders. Adding insult to injury, they have bypassed the 155-year partnership with land grant universities and Congress that has been a hallmark in determining American agricultural and food research policy."
Wasserstein added, "We're disappointed to see USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue persisting in his plans to uproot the USDA research arm, despite the overwhelming concerns of its former leaders and the greater statistical and agricultural research community."
"The USDA leadership developed their plans without consulting any of the agency's current or former research and statistical heads or the broader research community. With that community now having strongly voiced its concerns and opposition, USDA seems intent to proceed without course corrections."
Karen Kafadar, president of ASA, thanked Congress for expressing concern and asking for more clarity on the ERS and NIFA move, as well as the impacts.
"Regrettably, USDA's announcement today dismisses the input from ERS/NIFA's customers and stakeholders, primarily policy- and decision-makers," Kafadar said. "We continue to believe that this move is not only costly to U.S. taxpayers but removes ERS from its critical mission, 'to conduct high-quality, objective economic research to inform and enhance public and private decision-making.' We strongly urge Congress to halt USDA's plans to move ERS/NIFA to protect the research and statistical foundations of our food, agricultural and rural economies."
Trying to cope with the relocation, ERS employees are scheduled to vote next week on whether to unionize. NIFA employees will vote later this month as well.
Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow him on Twitter @hagstromreport
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