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New bill seeks to halt move of USDA agencies

The Trump administration has proposed moving some departments at the U.S. Department of Agriculture out of Washington, D.C. Michelle Rook / Forum News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Democratic members of the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture introduced legislation Thursday, Dec. 20, that would halt the Trump administration's plan to relocate and reorganize the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The new, opposing legislation, the Agriculture Research Integrity Act of 2018, addresses widespread concern, especially among scientists and researchers, about the administration’s plan.

The USDA plans to move both ERS and NIFA out of the Washington, D.C., area to new, still-to-be-determined locations around the country. In addition, the change would move the ERS, which currently reports to USDA's undersecretary for research, education and economics, into the office of the chief economist within Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue's office.

Supporters say the proposal would cut costs, promote economic development outside Washington, D.C., and give the relocated USDA employees a broader perspective.

Critics say the changes will threaten scientific integrity at both the ERS and NIFA by separating their research from policymaking, and could cause some highly skilled and experienced employees to quit their jobs because they’re unwilling or unable to leave Washington.

The legislation introduced Dec. 20 was praised by a number of groups, including the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, American Statistical Society and the Union of Concerned Scientists, among others.

The groups noted that although the new legislation does not block the administration plan, the Agriculture Research Integrity Act of 2018 indicates that the planned changes will face strong opposition in the next Congress.

The ERS employs 330 people who provide economic research on, and analysis of, emerging issues in agriculture, food, the environment and rural America, as well as global trade and food safety.

The NIFA has about 360 employees who promote agriculture-related sciences.

USDA said in October that it will select a new location or locations in January 2019.

Perdue announced previously that 136 groups in 35 states have expressed interest in becoming the new home of ERS and NIFA. The list includes Fargo, N.D., Brookings, S.D., Sioux Falls, S.D., Minneapolis, Bozeman, Mont., and Missoula, Mont.