The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s intent to move a few hundred employees outside Washington, D.C., may have a tougher time becoming reality, as a group of democratic senators announced May 23 that they plan to block the move through legislation.
The Agriculture Research Integrity Act prevents the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, along with the majority of their employees, from being officially located anywhere other than the national capital region.
“USDA is proposing to uproot more than 700 hardworking federal employees from the National Capital Region with no cost/benefit analysis and no obvious public benefit. These federal workers will be forced to sell their homes, take their kids out of school and move across the country to a location to be determined. This suspicious process is currently under investigation by the USDA Inspector General. Until USDA gives Congress and its own employees some straight answers, this move should be stopped,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who sponsored the bill alongside Sens. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.; Ben Cardin, D-Md.; Mark Warner, D-Va.; Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.; Patty Murray, D-Wash.; and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.
According to USDA, the move will bring parts of the agency “closer to stakeholders,” while reducing costs for both the agency and its employees.
But opponents of the move say that NIFA and ERS predominantly perform research work that has more relevance to lawmakers and federal agency leaders than it does to those outside Washington.
“The experts at NIFA and ERS conduct the scientific research that helps grow the food our families eat. They need a seat at the table with decision makers,” said Van Hollen in a news release.
“This proposed move — coupled with other efforts to undermine their work — is part of a broader effort by the Trump administration to banish facts and science from policy decisions. We are committed to fighting it tooth and nail.”
USDA announced earlier this month that it had selected three contenders for the new location, but has not announced any final decisions.
“U.S. farmers face constant uncertainty — not least of which comes from the extreme weather variability brought on by a changing climate. Secretary [Sonny] Perdue has added fuel to the uncertainty by proposing to uproot, reorganize and ultimately gut two research agencies essential to the stability of a productive and sustainable food system,” said Rebecca Boehm, an economist for Union of Concerned Scientists’ Food and Environment program in the news release.
“Since the Trump administration has been unable to provide evidence of how this move will benefit farmers, eaters and the public interest, Congress must stop the reorganization and relocation. We thank Sen. Van Hollen for leading the way.”