WASHINGTON — Earlier this week, former US Dept. of Agriculture and federal statistical agency officials renewed their call to not move two research units of the agency outside of Washington DC in a written letter to Congress.
USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue announced in August that the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture would be moved out of Washington by the end of 2019. A new location had not been determined yet.
Perdue said the move would save money, put the agencies closer to the agricultural community and help the ERS with its poor job retention rate, which was much higher than the USDA as a whole.
The American Statistical Association (ASA) first raised concerns about this proposal in October. In November, the Office of Inspector General for the USDA started reviewing the proposal to remove the two research units. Perdue also wanted to move ERS into the Office of the Chief Economist.
"The proposed restructuring is a major disruption in the USDA research arm that provides invaluable support for American food and agriculture," said Gale Buchanan, former USDA chief scientist and undersecretary for REE in a release by the ASA. "The decades of planning and adjustments that have optimized the work of REE will be dismantled in a matter of months if this proposal is carried out as planned. Congress should block such an upheaval of our nation's food and agriculture enterprise support system."
The undersecretaries of agriculture for Research, Education and Economics or REE stated that taking these research units out of Washington would realign them out of the mission and threating its role as a policy-neutral agency according to the release.
The REE also pointed out in the letter that removing the NIFA and ERS out of Washington provides several risks including:
- The loss of direct engagement with the broader scientific funding research community, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and National Institutes of Health (NIH).
- The undermining of USDA funding of research, which has stagnated for the last 40 years.
- The weakening of the coordination of NIFA and ERS with their sister REE agencies, the ARS and National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) The full impact has not been thoroughly examined, according to the signers of the letter who are urging Congress to intervene.