The rider of the House agricultural appropriations bill includes language blocking the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s proposal to relocate the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute for Food & Agriculture (NIFA) outside the National Capital Region. The bill also blocks USDA’s proposal to put ERS, currently under USDA’s research mission area, under the Office of the Chief Economist, which is under the Office of the Secretary.
On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee released the draft fiscal 2020 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food & Drug Administration & Related Agencies funding bill, which will be considered in subcommittee on May 23.
The American Statistical Assn. (ASA) welcomed the language as well as the rejection of the President’s proposed 50% cut to ERS programs, including to the research areas of farm, conservation and trade policy; food assistance, nutrition and diet quality; rural economy and well-being, and food safety.
ASA executive director Ron Wasserstein applauded House agricultural appropriations subcommittee chairman Sanford Bishop (D., Ga.) for “standing up for science and evidence-based policy-making at USDA.” Wasserstein added that the proposals from Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue "would cripple the ability of ERS and NIFA to carry out their vital work supporting our food and agriculture as well as rural America -- setbacks that could take many years to address. These sectors are too important to keeping our country fed and nourished to let the secretary proceed with a poorly justified upheaval of the USDA research arm that experts in the USDA stakeholder community agree is an illogical and counterproductive move.”
ASA said it hopes the Senate will follow suit in “protecting the integrity of USDA science.” House appropriators previously attempted to limit USDA in the move, but it was not included in a final bill after negotiations with the Senate.
Perdue continued to move forward with his plans to relocate ERS and NIFA. Earlier in May, he unveiled the top three cities for the agencies' relocation: Purdue University, Indiana Economic Development Corp. and the state of Indiana; the Kansas City Area Development Council and 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.
On May 9, ERS employees voted 136-4 to unionize and have a say in where the final relocation will be.
The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee denied a 2018 proposal for a new lease for NIFA. The lease on the agency’s current location in southwest Washington, D.C., ends in January 2020. House Democrats have also asked Perdue for further details on the relocation before they’ll approve lease proposals for USDA.
“We urge Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to heed the House language and the wisdom and concerns of the broader USDA stakeholder community,” Wasserstein said.