More than 1,100 scientists oppose USDA agency moves | TheFencePost.com

More than 1,100 scientists oppose USDA agency moves

-The Hagstrom Report

More than 1,100 scientists and economists from across the country sent a letter to congressional leaders today, opposing the Trump administration's proposal to move the Agriculture Department's Economic Research Service under the Office of the Chief Economist and to relocate most of the positions in ERS and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture out of the Washington metropolitan area.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue says the changes would be better for recruitment and the cost of renting facilities.

In the letter to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate agriculture committees and agriculture appropriations subcommittees, the scientists urged Congress to delay the reorganization until agency employees, federal researchers, Congress and other stakeholders have been given the opportunity for input into the process.

"As a former national program leader at NIFA and a farmer, I have firsthand experience of how the USDA serves customers," said Diana Jerkins, research director at the Organic Farming Research Foundation said in a news release from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"Stakeholders travel to D.C. to meet with NIFA, ERS and other government officials including members of Congress, all in a single trip," Jerkins said.

"If NIFA and ERS are moved, it will make interaction with these agencies more challenging," she said.

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"Additionally, the ability of these research agencies to work on joint programs, collaborate with other researchers and government officials and serve the customers of USDA — it would be greatly diminished."

The signers also said they worry that moving ERS from the Research, Education and Economics mission area will undermine the agency's work to objectively collect and analyze data on issues ranging from agriculture and conservation to food and rural development and moving the agencies out of Washington would reduce their access to data from other agencies.

"The mission of ERS is to generate research free from the ideological positions of a particular administration," said Ricardo Salvador, senior scientist and director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "Placing ERS in the secretary's office means that 'inconvenient' data can be more readily suppressed or manipulated."

"Recent nonpartisan ERS analyses have undercut Trump administration messaging on issues including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, trade agreements, climate change, the Clean Water Act and crop insurance," the news release said.

"ERS produces valuable analysis to inform policy decisions with real impacts on farmers, consumers, rural communities and the natural resources we all depend upon," said Carol Adaire Jones, a former associate director of the agency's Resource and Rural Economics Division and now a visiting scholar at the Environmental Law Institute. "Congress should act to preserve its mandate and protect its integrity."