Partisan split on ERS-NIFA moves apparent at hearing
March 27, 2019
The Trump administration's decision to move the Agriculture Department's Economic Research Service under the Office of the Chief Economist and to move most of the employees of ERS and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture has created a partisan split that was evident at today's House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing.
In an opening statement, House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., said, "I am worried that the method for rolling this proposal out and the lack of clear, transparent communication with ERS and NIFA employees has already done irreversible damage to the department's reputation. How will the department attract and retain highly qualified staff to ERS and NIFA if its current workforce loses trust in its leadership?"
He added that he considers the decision to move ERS from under the Office of the Undersecretary for Research, Education and Economics to the Office of the Chief Economist "simply a bad idea."
Meanwhile, Kristi Boswell, senior adviser to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, testified that the administration is proceeding with the plans, and 30 House Republicans – including all Republican members of the House Agriculture Committee – sent the appropriators a letter supporting the moves.
"We believe relocating ERS and NIFA would build upon USDA's capacity and improve the agency's ability to recruit top talent from universities across the nation while being closer to rural America and reducing taxpayer expenditures," the Republican House members said.
After the hearing, Mike Lavender of the Union of Concerned Scientists said that Boswell "sidestepped" the question of how the proposed reorganization would improve agriculture and food research and "parroted the administration's yet-to-be-substantiated claims. USDA can't answer the most basic question about its own proposal: Would it improve agriculture research? That's because the goal of the proposal has never been to improve agriculture and food research for farmers, ranchers and eaters. Instead, it's designed to diminish investments in the science-based information that farmers need most. The USDA's recently released FY2020 budget – which guts research funding and zeros out research on nutrition assistance programs, drought resilience and food safety among many other topics – further confirms that."