Roberts, Stabenow question econ reorganization, ERS, NIFA moves | TheFencePost.com

Roberts, Stabenow question econ reorganization, ERS, NIFA moves

-The Hagstrom Report

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., wrote Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue last week expressing concern about the Trump administration's plans to place the Agriculture Department's economics functions under the Office of the Secretary and to move most of the employees of the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture out of Washington.

In the letter, Roberts and Stabenow noted that stakeholders have expressed concern that relocating positions outside of Washington will lead many employees to leave USDA and cause a loss of expertise and make it difficult for USDA researchers to work with other federal agencies on issues such as infectious diseases.

The Hagstrom Report obtained a copy of the Roberts-Stabenow letter to Perdue.

Also last week, stakeholders expressed concern to congressional agriculture leaders and Perdue about the plan and USDA announced an extension of the deadline for communities to express an interest in housing the agencies until Oct. 15.

Roberts and Stabenow asked many of the same questions that stakeholders are asking, including why USDA is not seeking public comment on the proposed reorganization and moves.

A former USDA research official told The Hagstrom Report there are rumors within the department that the Trump administration wants to move ERS because officials do not like what ERS has been publishing about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which the administration wants to cut, and about the impact of President Donald Trump's tariffs on steel and aluminum, which have resulted in retaliatory tariffs on U.S. farm products and reduced U.S. exports.

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ERS has been under the undersecretary for research, education and economics, but Perdue plans to put the Office of the Chief Economist under the Office of the Secretary and ERS under the chief economist.

At a goodbye reception for ERS Administrator Mary Bohman, who has been moved to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, a former USDA research official said "Staff were just scared to death and they wanted to stay in D.C."

The former official also said that NIFA faced high office rental costs because it is located near The Wharf district in southwest Washington, which is in the process of development.

"Someone put in their ear to move (ERS and NIFA) out of town," but the agencies could be located near the USDA research facilities in Beltsville, Md., the former official said.