Perdue Responds on ERS, NIFA Plans

Published online: Sep 26, 2018 Articles Ryan McCrimmon
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Source: Politico

Agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue is seeking to reassure top ag lawmakers that USDA’s plan to relocate the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture out of Washington is sound.

Bottom line: The letter might not do much to tamp down those complaints or defuse any attempt by lawmakers to crack down on USDA’s plans. It mostly side-stepped several key questions posed by the committee leaders. (The issues raised include asking why there was no public comment period and whether USDA foresees any negatives from the agency moves.)

Perdue also doesn’t provide any cost-benefit analysis. He said there isn’t enough data yet to project how many staffers will leave — but he notes that USDA will pursue a “focused hiring effort” between June and December 2019 to re-fill those positions.

Objective ERS: The secretary dismissed criticisms that moving ERS from an independent research arm to under the Office of the Chief Economist would make it vulnerable to political influence. “We are confident that ERS will remain a trusted and objective source of information for the food and agricultural sector and provide policy relevant analyses with better coordination within OCE,” he wrote.

Restating the case: Perdue also played up the benefits of having ERS and NIFA located closer to stakeholders throughout the country, where employees can get a better sense of issues “that cannot be identified solely within the beltway.” Perdue said he intends to keep staffing for NIFA and ERS at current levels.

What’s next: USDA aims to pick the new locations by January and open them by June. Potential sites have until Oct. 15 to let USDA know they’re interested.