Statistics group: USDA overstates ERS attrition by including interns
September 14, 2018
The American Statistical Association said Thursday that the Agriculture Department has overstated personnel attrition in the Economic Research Service in its justification for planning to move the agency outside the Washington region.
In a news release, ASA noted that a USDA spokesperson said when the announcement was made in August, "Over the past five years, attrition at ERS has averaged 16.5 percent annually compared to 12 percent for USDA as a whole (excluding firefighters)."
But ASA said that newly available USDA attrition rate data — broken down by all employees and all permanent employees — tell a different story.
"The former category includes summer interns, a large program for the ERS and one that has a 100 percent attrition rate. It appears the USDA used the all employees category in justifying their proposal. Looking at the more relevant data for only permanent employees, the ERS attrition rate averages about 8 percent compared to 7 percent for USDA."
ASA noted that ERS is ranked as one of the top 10 agricultural economics institutions in the world.
ASA Executive Director Ron Wasserstein said, "The apparent willingness of the USDA to use interns to inflate attrition statistics speaks to our concern for Economic Research Service being placed under the USDA Office of the Chief Economist."
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"The products of the ERS must be viewed by producers and consumers everywhere as objective and neutral," Wasserstein said.
"ERS should remain in the information providing arm of the USDA and not move to the policy-supporting Office of the Chief Economist. The new data also undermine USDA's justification for moving ERS outside of Washington, D.C. We call on congressional appropriators and authorizers to stop these illogical and unfounded moves."
But when Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., was asked whether Congress would write a rider into the farm bill to prevent relocation of ERS and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Roberts said, "I don't think so," according to the Food and Environment Reporting Network.