More than 100 organizations signed a letter sent to Congress urging appropriators to block the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s relocation and reorganization of the Economic Research Service (ERS) and relocation of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) outside the Washington, D.C., area.
“The greater agriculture and food community has been clear in its opposition to USDA’s unilateral decision to uproot its research arm: It is a counterproductive and ill-conceived plan that should be stopped,” Ron Wasserstein, executive director of the American Statistical Assn., said.
“This letter includes 50 organizations new to our campaign,” stated Nichelle Harriott, policy specialist to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “We’re seeing more and more opposition. In fact, there are few, if any, supporters within the farm and food research community for the Administration's misguided plan."
“The proposed relocation and reorganization will undermine the quality and breadth of the work these agencies support and perform — work that is vital to informing and supporting U.S. agriculture, food security and rural development. The rationale provided by the USDA for the relocation also fails to identify problems substantive enough to justify such a disruption of ERS’s and NIFA’s operations and jeopardizes the much-needed growth in funding for both agencies’ programs. Equally concerning is that USDA made their decision last summer without stakeholder or congressional input,” the letter stated.
The letter urges congressional intervention through bill language in fiscal 2020 agriculture appropriations legislation stating that no funding be used for relocation or reorganization of ERS and that no funding be used for the NIFA relocation outside the National Capital Region. Additionally, the signers request appropriators to deny any fiscal 2019 reprogramming requests from USDA to continue to implement relocation.
Wasserstein also pointed out that USDA’s rationale for this upheaval was further undermined by the fiscal 2020 proposed budget released earlier this month. It slashes the ERS budget by cutting research and analysis in four areas: farm, conservation and trade policy; food assistance, nutrition and diet quality; rural economy and well-being, and food safety.
The groups said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue "told us in August that the reorganization was ‘intended to improve customer service, strengthen offices and programs and save taxpayer dollars.’ Their attempts to cut the agency’s budget in half for the second year in a row reveals they don’t care about the first two. It’s abundantly clear their proposed reorganization is just an end run around appropriations and the USDA food and agriculture stakeholder community.”
Among the most vocal opponents of the USDA plans are Gale Buchanan and Catherine Woteki, USDA chief scientists and undersecretaries under President George W. Bush and Barack Obama, respectively. They have organized a letter that has now been signed by 75 leaders of the land-grant university agricultural research network. The letter, originally sent in November with 21 signers, states, “The restructuring will undermine our food and agriculture enterprise by disrupting and hampering the agencies’ vital work in support of it — through research, analyses and statistics. We are also deeply troubled such a major upheaval of the USDA research arm would be carried out with such haste and without the input and prior consultation of the USDA research stakeholders.”
Buchanan and Woteki will testify Wednesday before the House appropriations subcommittee on agriculture, rural development, food and drug administration and related agencies.