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Hearing explores NIFA, ERS relocation

Subcommittee chairwoman says USDA hasn't provided any information on actual benefits of the relocation proposal.

Key stakeholders expressed concerns about the ramifications of reorganizing and relocating the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture during the House Agriculture Committee Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research hearing exploring the impacts of relocating USDA research agencies on agricultural research today (June 5).

In opening remarks prepared for delivery, Rep. Stacey Plaskett, D-Virgin Islands, who chairs the subcommittee, said, “The decision to relocate ERS and NIFA lacks transparency and is not supported by an overwhelming majority of stakeholders who partner with the agencies. Secretary Perdue’s claim that the research agencies re better served elsewhere is misconstrued.”

Plaskett said Perdue’s proposal, along with a budget request that cuts the number of ERS employees in half, will undermine the integrity of the agency.

“Not only were stakeholders entirely cut out of this process, they were blindsided by the announcement from USDA last August,” Plaskett said. “And to date, the actual benefits to ag research or an economic analysis of this proposal have not been conveyed.”

Both NIFA and ERS are understaffed, she said, which decreases the ability to implement the 2018 Farm Bill. Relocation will make the problem worse and also hurt the agencies ability to collaborate with other agencies based in the nation’s capital.

“Agriculture research does not take place in a vacuum and modern science is complex and interdisciplinary,” Plaskett said. “We should be encouraging collaboration, not isolating agencies.”

National Farmers Union, which has objected to the proposal since it was first introduced, submitted a statement for the record emphasizing the importance of publicly funded agricultural research and criticizing the disruption the relocation proposal has caused.

“Already, USDA’s hasty approach has disrupted operations – as experienced researchers scramble to find new jobs, NIFA and ERS have both lost decades of institutional knowledge,” Johnson said in a statement. “This is bad enough, but the long-term consequences could be even more serious. By moving these agencies farther away from policy makers, we are concerned that their research will be devalued and their influence diminished. Similarly, we worry that reorganizing ERS from under the Research, Education, and Economics mission area to the Office of the Chief Economist may undermine the scientific integrity and objectivity of its work.”

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