Ag Policy Blog

NFU Opposes USDA's ERS, NIFA Moves

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent

The National Farmers Union on Tuesday came out against USDA's plans to move the Economic Research Service and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture.

USDA wants to move ERS and NIFA out of DC. The moves have drawn lots of fire but also some interest from officials in Missouri, Iowa, North Dakota and other states who consider having the agencies located in their states as rural economic development opportunities. Last week USDA extended the comment period until Oct. 15 for entities seeking to comment on the moves and also submit a bid for hosting the agencies.

National Farmers Union wrote Perdue on Tuesday stating the process to move the agencies "has lacked meaningful public input that would better inform any final decision. Additionally, the USDA should be more forthcoming and transparent with the metrics it utilized in developing the current proposal. Given the available information, NFU has several concerns."

NFU notes USDA has not explained how USDA will improve the agencies' work serving family farmers and ranchers. "While USDA cites current difficulty with employee recruitment as a justification, we are concerned that the move will lead to a large loss of knowledgeable and experienced staff. Such a loss could cause disruptions in NIFA's program delivery, and ERS's reporting and research."

Plus, moving the agencies and the reorganization could harm each agency's objectivity, NFU stated. ERS would now fall under the umbrella of the USDA Chief Economist, whose role is to focus on the economic impact of USDA policies and programs, while ERS's mission is to provide "objective economic research" for the benefit of the public, NFU stated.

Absent some explanation about how the move benefits farmers and ranchers, NFU stated it opposes the reorganization and relocation of the agencies. https://1yd7z7koz052nb8r33cfxyw5-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/…

Some of the arguments for USDA's reorganization and move were spotlighted in this article by Executive Government: https://www.govexec.com/…

NFU's letter comes as two former USDA undersecretaries for research, education and economics — Catherine Woteki and Gale Buchanan — and former Economic Research Service Administrator Susan Offutt will participate in a public webinar Thursday on the Trump administration’s plans to move ERS and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture out of the Washington metropolitan area.

The webinar is sponsored by the American Statistical Association, which has questioned the administration’s statistics on personnel retention in justifying the move, as well as the Association of Public and Land Grant Colleges, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and other groups.

The discussion will be moderated by Scott Swinton, a professor at Michigan State University and past president of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.

The webinar will begin at 11 a.m. Central Daylight Time and a link to register for it is below. A recording of the webinar will be posted after the event.

In the news release announcing the event, the sponsors said that the administration’s announcement about the moves “has raised the following questions of process:”

“Was the partner and stakeholder community consulted prior to the announcement, and if so, how and when?

“Will there be a chance for the USDA partner community to comment on the announcement and the effects of its realization?

“What is Congress’s oversight and appropriation role in this reorganization?

“Many substantive concerns have also been raised, including the following:

“What policy and research problems are being addressed by the relocations and ERS’ transfer to a USDA policy arm?

“How will the research quality and relevance of NIFA and ERS be improved by moving their headquarters away from key audiences and policymakers?

“How would NIFA’s role in federal research partnerships be affected with a move away from sister federal agencies (National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and Department of Energy)?

“How would NIFA’s day-to-day operations be affected with leadership in DC and the rest of the agency in another location?

“If most of NIFA is relocated to a partner university, what protections would be necessary to avoid preferential treatment of that university over the dozens of other universities that host NIFA-funded research?

“Will ERS retain its capacity to be a leading world agricultural economics research institution if many staff elect not to relocate?

“After reorganization, will the ERS have the resources to continue to serve as an independent, trustworthy source of statistical information?

“What do these changes mean for the future of the USDA mission area of Research, Education, and Economics?”

The sponsors said the panelists will address “the many questions and concerns” raised about Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s announcement, and will also address viewer questions and “suggest actions for Congress, USDA, and viewers.”

Registration — USDA Research Relocation and Reorganization: Perspectives from Former USDA Chief Scientists and Administrators

https://register.gotowebinar.com/…

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton contributed to this report.

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