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Reversing the Relocation of USDA ERS and NIFA?


EGG-NEWS previously commented extensively and forcefully on the negative aspects of the USDA action to transfer the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) from Washington D.C. to Kansas City.


USDA Secretary, Dr. Sonny Perdue claimed that the motivation was to place USDA personnel "near their constituency-the farmers".  This is arrant nonsense.  Economists and specialists involved in the activities of the ERS and the NIFA are not involved in walking fields or interacting on a day-to-day basis with farmers.  Informed observers in academia and industry and veterans of the Agencies regarded the action by the Administration, dutifully implemented by USDA Secretary Dr. Perdue, as an effort to deemphasize studies on sustainability, climate change and trade policy. By uprooting the Agencies from their D.C. location the Administration shed senior economists and scientists who expressed views and published research contrary to prevailing policy and “alternative facts”.


As expected, key personnel with years of experience were disinclined to move from Washington and resigned en masse finding opportunities in academia, think-tanks, producer-associations and industry.  Replacements of equivalent calibre were not hired and critical research and reports on studies relating to conservation, nutrition and economics have been delayed or cancelled. Former USDA Chief Economist, Dr. Joseph Glauber stated, "it's hard to pretend it never happened".  He added, "you've uprooted everyone's lives, you had all these people quit and it’s a tough situation". 


Remedying the situation by moving relocated employees and new hires back to Washington will be an expensive and disruptive process antithetical to the second justification that the move would save money, a position that at the time was discredited. At the request of USDA, the states of Missouri and Kansas invested in incentives to host the relocated agencies that will require some form of reimbursement in the event of a return to Washington D.C.


The question facing the incoming administration and Secretary-designate Tom Vilsack will be to either retain the agencies in their current location with recruitment of suitable personnel or to allocate funds for the move back to Washington, DC.


The previous commentary on the issue is repreoduced for the benefit of subscribers.