New bill insists USDA research agencies remain in nation’s capital
WASHINGTON — Responding to the Trump Administration’s plan to relocate and reorganize the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Democratic Members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture introduced a new bill aimed at halting the move.
The opposition legislation, the Agriculture Research Integrity Act of 2018 (ARIA), was led by Representatives Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Mark Pocan, D-Wis. Members of the House Agriculture Committee Jim McGovern, D-Ill., Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio,, Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., Annie Kuster, D-N.H., as well as Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and delegate to the House of Representatives Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., also added their names as co-sponsors.
The bill seeks to address some of the research community’s gravest concerns about the potential relocation and reorganization of the agencies by codifying that the primary location of ERS and NIFA is within the Washington–Baltimore–Arlington combined statistical area, and that all U.S. Department of Agriculture Research, Education, and Economics agencies are to remain administratively within the REE Mission Area.
“It’s integral to the core mission and functions of both ERS and NIFA that these agencies remain in the Washington Capital Area,” said Nichelle Harriott, policy specialist at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “Maintaining proximity to other federal scientific and USDA agencies, as well as to the region’s larger scientific community, is what allows ERS and NIFA to engage in so many beneficial partnerships and collaborations. Relocating them would isolate the agencies from the resources of the Washington Capital Area — resources that are unparalleled anywhere else in the nation. Making this decision without stakeholder engagement or even a cost-benefit analysis is a hasty move that will ultimately hurt all of American agriculture if it is allowed to go forward.”
In addition to rooting ERS and NIFA’s physical locations within the Washington capital region, the bill also stipulates that the authority to administer the agencies lies with the under secretary for REE and that it may not be vested in another mission area or office within USDA.
“ARIA sends a clear message to the administration that reorganizing ERS under the Office of the Chief Economist in the secretary’s office is not in the best interest of U.S. agriculture nor the scientific community writ large,” said Harriott. “Maintaining the integrity and political independence of our nation’s federal research agencies is of the utmost importance. We urge the secretary to reconsider this plan and encourage agricultural appropriators in both parties and both chambers to take action by blocking any attempt to reorganize and relocate ERS and NIFA.”
Earlier this year, USDA announced its intention to relocate both ERS and NIFA from their current homes in Washington D.C. Opponents of the move, including NSAC, warned that uprooting the agencies would isolate them from key partnerships with other federal research agencies, front line USDA agencies, and key stakeholders within the broader research community. Critics also pointed to the loss of highly experienced and educated staff who would likely not move with the agencies, as well as the harm the move would do to national efforts to increase agricultural research funding.
With every minority member of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee signed on to the bill, it is now clear the administration will face strong opposition not only from stakeholder communities, but also from the new congress.
Thus far, 136 expressions of interest have been submitted by various institutions from several states interested in hosting the relocated agencies. USDA has indicated that it intends to announce the new locations of ERS and NIFA in February 2019, and that they will proceed with physical relocation by the summer. ❖