Angle leaves NIFA after less than 2 years

-The Hagstrom Report

Scott Angle, the director of the Agriculture Department’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, has left the position after less than two years of a six-year appointment, as controversy continues to surround the Trump administration’s decision to relocate most positions in NIFA and the USDA’s Economic Research Service to Kansas City.

Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced Friday that Parag Chitnis, the associate director of programs at NIFA, will serve as acting director, and that Bryan Kaphammer, associate area director for the Agricultural Research Service’s Plains region, will serve as NIFA acting associate director of programs during the transition.

NIFA, created by Congress in 2008, makes grants for agricultural research.

Angle has accepted a position as vice president of agriculture and natural resources at the University of Florida in Gainesville and “will lead the university’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) into the next decade,” the university said in a news release. Angle was scheduled to assume the role today, the university said.

“My experience at NIFA gave me the opportunity to see university agriculture operations across the nation, and UF/IFAS is simply one of, if not the, best. Agriculture is changing faster than I have ever witnessed in my career,” Angle said in the release.

“Many challenges lie ahead, not the least of which is COVID-19, and its long-term implications for agriculture. UF/IFAS, however, is up to the challenge and I am honored to be at the helm during such an important time for agriculture.”

“Not one to shy away from challenges, Angle recently oversaw the successful transition of NIFA operations from Washington, D.C., to Kansas City, Mo., while ensuring mission continuity and service,” the university said.

“UF/IFAS has been in transition mode during the coronavirus pandemic as well, pivoting quickly to remote learning and working, budgetary challenges and an industry in crisis.”

In the USDA release announcing Chitnis as acting director, Perdue said Chitnis brings more than 31 years of scientific research and experience to the position.

“He has been instrumental in providing steady leadership and support to NIFA during its transition to Kansas City last fall, in addition to playing a lead role on NIFA’s Project CAFÉ (Collaboratively Achieving Functional Excellence) initiative which aims to help NIFA maximize business operations to better serve its customers. We thank Dr. Angle for his many contributions to NIFA and service to USDA.”

President Donald Trump appointed Angle to the position in August 2018, and he was sworn in as director on October that year.

The administration made the decision to move most of the positions in NIFA and ERS to Kansas City before Angle took the job, which is considered one of the most prestigious in agricultural research, and comes with a salary around $180,000 per year.

Despite the statements by USDA and the University of Florida, NIFA’s move to Kansas City has been anything but smooth. Key personnel left rather than make the move, and USDA has had a hard time recruiting personnel.

Democrats in both the House and the Senate introduced legislation requiring greater oversight over proposed agency relocations by requiring making analyses of such proposals available for public review, Government Executive reported on July 1.

The report accompanying the fiscal year 2021 Agriculture appropriations bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee last week said, “It has been almost exactly two years since the secretary announced the decision to relocate ERS and NIFA outside of the greater Washington, D.C. area.”

“Despite objections from the committee, members of the House and Senate, numerous current and former staff of both agencies, and stakeholders who depend on the information and support provided by each agency, the department relocated both agencies, starting in the summer of 2019.

“The committee reiterates its frustration at the repeated difficulties it experiences in getting basic information about the move from the department. One of the stated reasons for the move was to improve the department’s ability to attract and retain highly qualified staff.

“At the time of the relocation announcement, both ERS and NIFA each had close to 300 employees. Today, the total number of employees for each agency is below 150. ERS and NIFA are shells of their former selves and the loss of institutional knowledge each agency has suffered will take years to overcome.”

The report also said “The committee requests the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to conduct symposia to elucidate the effects of the relocation of each agency,” and that the symposium on NIFA “shall include a discussion of the grants management, time to completion of grants processing and issuance of letters of funding, and panel review processes and associated costs of the agency both before and after the relocation and documentation of delays that have occurred post-relocation.”

The fiscal year 2021 Agriculture appropriations bill is expected on the House floor next week.