Lugar: ERS, NIFA need to communicate with congress
Former Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said Wednesday that relocating the Agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture outside the Washington metropolitan area could reduce their communication with Congress and lead to reduced funding for their activities.
”If the relocation occurs, they will be farther from Congress and you need to have people close to Washington to make the case,” Lugar said at a Farm Foundation forum entitled “The Return on Investment for Higher Education in Food and Agriculture.”
The issues of the Trump administration’s plans to relocate ERS and NIFA were not part of the forum agenda, but members of the panel commented on the plan in response to reporters’ questions.
A ”lack of communication day by day” could lead Congress to be less interested in funding the activities of the agencies, said Lugar, who in his formal presentation called for continuing publicly funded agricultural research.
”Recent cuts in funding for agricultural research have undercut U.S. leadership,” said Lugar, who now heads the Lugar Center in Washington and holds academic appointments.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has announced plans to relocate ERS and NIFA outside Washington by the end of 2019. Perdue has said the reason is to ease staff recruitment and reduce space rental costs, but stakeholders have said the plan has been presented without consideration of a possible loss of expertise in the agencies and noted that the Trump administration has previously proposed cuts for programs.
University of Nebraska Chancellor Ronnie Green and Purdue University Provost Jay Akridge both said that there are arguments on both sides, but Akridge said the move would not be good if it results in reduced funding for agricultural research and other activities.
Florida Gulf Coast President Michael Martin, who has previously worked at land-grant universities, said he thinks the plan is “symbolic, not substantive.”
The comments came a day before Catherine Woteki and Gale Buchanan, both former Agriculture undersecretaries for research, education and economics, and former ERS Administrator Susan Offut are scheduled to participate in a webinar on the relocation plan.
In addition, Government Executive this week published an article with interviews of USDA employees who are critical of the plan.
And Neilson Conklin, a former director of the Market and Trade Economics Division at ERS, sent interested parties a letter questioning the move.