Despite widespread opposition, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced today that the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and Economic Research Service (ERS) will leave Washington, DC, and relocate to the Kansas City region. Here are just a few reasons why relocation is bad news for farmers, researchers, and rural communities.
“The decision to relocate the USDA’s preeminent research agencies is deeply concerning,” says OSA Advocacy Director Kiki Hubbard. “The status of agricultural research will be severely weakened if NIFA and ERS can’t easily participate in White House and interagency meetings relating to science and farming. Who will speak for US agricultural research, education, and extension in Washington?”
The data generated by these two agencies, especially ERS, is critical to the work of other government agencies, to Congress, and to farming organizations. Groups like ours rely on this data for understanding problems, needs, and trends that inform our priorities as a mission-driven organization working in the areas of agricultural research, education, and policy. There appears to be no doubt that this relocation will result in a dramatic decrease in staff capacity to carry out this important work.
Coordination and collaboration with other statistical agencies is essential to NIFA and ERS’s work. These agencies have said that these collaborations require face-to-face meetings, which will be difficult and expensive (if allowed) to accomplish if these agencies are relocated outside the DC area.
“Furthermore, many organizations like ours, as well as businesses and universities, don’t have the resources to fly to various parts of the country to meet with different federal government staff,” Hubbard adds. “This relocation makes it extremely difficult for farmers, researchers, organizations, and businesses to efficiently meet with multiple agency staff and decision makers who have historically always called the DC area home. This move will limit communications between the public and these agencies, ultimately cutting off a critical feedback loop.”
As our friends at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) point out:
Given the Administration’s position on agricultural and economic research, it would not be at all surprising if the vacancies resulting from moving the agencies were never filled. In last year’s budget request, the President proposed a 14 percent cut to USDA research funding, including a nearly 50 percent cut to ERS’ budget and a cut of over $100 million from NIFA grant funding. Congress wisely has rejected these cuts, but the reorganization scheme could achieve similar results, effectively doing an end run around congressional appropriations. Why move NIFA out of DC but leave the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, US Geological Survey, Agricultural Research Service, and other major research agencies?
As part of this announcement, the Secretary also shared that ERS will not be moved to the Office of Chief Economist as previously proposed. We’re happy to see this course reversed, as this move would have politicized and compromised the very federal agency responsible for impartial food and agricultural economic analysis.