In Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s quest to relocate the Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food & Agriculture (NIFA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the top sites for the relocations on May 3.
The top sites include multiple locations in Indiana from applicants Purdue University, the Indiana Economic Development Corp. as well as the state of Indiana; The Kansas City Area Development Council and The Kansas City Animal Health Corridor in the greater Kansas City region, and Research Triangle Region in North Carolina’s NC Research Triangle, Wake County, Durham County and Research Triangle Park.
“This short list of locations took into consideration critical factors required to uphold the important missions of ERS and NIFA. We also considered factors important to our employees, such as quality of life,” Perdue said. “Relocation will help ensure USDA is the most effective, most efficient and most customer-focused agency in the federal government, allowing us to be closer to our stakeholders and move our resources closer to our customers. Our commitment to the public and our employees is to continue to be transparent as we proceed with our analysis.”
As part of the rigorous site selection process, USDA narrowed down the expressions of interest list using a set of established criteria defined by USDA, NIFA and ERS leadership. The criteria included:
- Quality of Life -- Subcategory examples include Diversity Index, Residential Housing Costs, Access to Healthcare and Home and Community Safety Ranking.
- Costs (Capital and Operating) -- Subcategory examples include Commercial Real Estate Costs, CPI Index and Wage Costs.
- Workforce -- Subcategory examples include Labor Force Growth Rate, Unemployment Rate and the Labor Force Population.
- Logistics / IT Infrastructure -- Subcategory examples include Lodging Availability, Proximity to Customers and Airport Accessibility.
The top expressions of interest were reviewed in detail from the 136 expressions of interest from 35 states, and USDA selected a short list of locations offering existing buildings with sufficient space to meet ERS and NIFA requirements.
While not in the top three, two additional expressions of interest remain under consideration as alternative locations should the top three locations not suit USDA’s needs. This includes the St. Louis, Mo., region, with the joint applicant of the St. Louis Regional Consortium, St. Louis Economic Development Partnerships, state of Missouri, Missouri Department of Agriculture and Missouri Partnership. In addition, Madison, Wis., is on the alternative list, with the city of Madison, the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Agricultural & Life Sciences (CALS), University of Wisconsin-Madison Office of University Relations, University Research Park, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection and 910 Mayer LLC.
Opposition remains to the move overall.
ERS employees will vote May 9 on whether to form a union. It is expected that the vote will bring ERS into the American Federation of Government Employees, which already represents more than 100,000 USDA workers nationwide, primarily inspectors. The federation would negotiate on behalf of 214 economists, analysts and other ERS employees as the department moves forward on relocating.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) applauded employee efforts to unionize. “Both ERS and NIFA are currently operating with significantly reduced capacity, as the lack of support and investment from this Administration increasingly pushes experienced researchers and experts to seek other employment. Those employees that have chosen to stay are actively fighting for the integrity of their agencies by mobilizing a unionization effort, which NSAC applauds,” NSAC said in a statement.
Ron Wasserstein, executive director of the American Statistical Assn. (ASA) stated that any gains USDA asserts will result from relocating ERS and NIFA away from the nation’s research, food and agricultural policy-making are overwhelmingly outweighed by the detrimental impacts. “Further, USDA has neither made a compelling case for such an upheaval nor listened to their own stakeholders, experts and leaders. Adding insult to injury, they have bypassed the 155-year partnership with land-grant universities and Congress that has been a hallmark in determining American agricultural and food research policy,” he said.
NSAC added, “Congress has the power to save ERS and NIFA from banishment from the nation’s capital. We urge every member of Congress to unite and stand strong against this move to ensure that future generations of farmers have the research and tools they need to continue feeding their neighbors and stewarding our natural resources for generations to come."