Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced last week a plan to relocate several USDA research offices. According to the plan, the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) will be moved out of Washington by the end of 2019. ERS will also be realigned with the Office of the Chief Economist.
USDA employees affected by the changes were notified approximately an hour before the media release was sent.
While Perdue claims this reorganization will save taxpayer money, top agricultural scientists and economists claim that this move may have devastating effects on important federal research, specifically with regards to climate change and nutrition.
“A lot of people feel strongly that the rationale given doesn’t make sense and doesn’t have much evidence to support it,” an ERS employee, who asked to remain anonymous, told Politico.
Experts believe specifically that the relocation will lead to a high number of resignations, and that the administration will not fill these vacant positions once the agencies move.
“This all seems like just a way to get people to quit,” an anonymous official told Politico.
These suspicions are supported in part by proposals in President Trump's last budget in favor of cutting ERS funding by 50 percent. While Congress did not act in favor of the proposal, some USDA employees feel that it sent a message that the agency’s research was not being prioritized by the administration.
“The Trump administration has already targeted ERS for steep funding cuts, saying in its 2019 budget proposal that some of the agency’s research duplicated work being done at nonprofits and in the private sector,” writes the Washington Post.
The relocation will also make it more difficult for ERS to consult with other federal research offices, which are located in Washington.
NIFA’s purpose is to consolidate federally funded agricultural research as well as to stimulate research for the enhancement and improved sustainability of American agriculture. ERS’s mission is to research policy issues related to agriculture, food, and natural resources; this research includes food prices, farm conservation practices, and nutrition assistance. Together, ERS and NIFA account for slightly more than half of the budget for agricultural research in 2018.
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