Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue reaffirmed his desire to move swiftly in identifying new office locations for the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture, at the swearing-in today of a new NIFA director.
The new director, J. Scott Angle, said he would be “getting up to speed very quickly, literally in the next 48 hours” on the subject of his agency’s relocation outside of Washington, D.C.
“I haven’t had anything to do with it up to this point,” Angle told reporters following the ceremony, which took place at the NIFA headquarters in southwest Washington. “All I know at this point, frankly, is what I’ve read in the newspaper.”
But Angle added, “It’s quite clear we’re going to move out of this building. It’s expensive, it’s not a good use of taxpayer money, so we have to move somewhere else.”
Perdue said Angle’s experience will help as the relocation process moves forward. “Dr. Angle, having been dean of a land grant and a (grant) recipient knowing very well what NIFA does, I think has a real leg up on helping us to design the criteria for the relocation consultant as we look at these 135 or 136 expressions of interest,” Perdue said, referring to the 136 EOIs submitted from communities around the country.
But Perdue indicated the process is still evolving. “We have to move quickly,” he said. “But we want to do it right rather than quick. I’d like to have this process winnowed down by the end of the year so we can start serious negotiations with the finalists in the first quarter (of 2019) so we can make an announcement.”
USDA has previously said it plans to pick the new location or locations for the two agencies by January. NIFA and ERS then would begin moving by summer and complete their moves by the end of the year. “No ERS or NIFA employees will be involuntarily separated,” the department said in announcing the plan. “Every employee who wants to continue working will have an opportunity to do so, although that will mean moving to a new location for most.”
But Perdue said he wasn’t sure how many “stages” there would be in the process. He said USDA may decide to give applicants a chance to “refresh or plus up their offers.”
USDA is contracting with Ernst & Young to help with the process. Asked by a reporter why USDA chose a British firm over a U.S. firm, Perdue said he didn’t make the decision and didn’t know EY was headquartered in London.
“I don’t know why they did that,” he said, identifying the person who made the choice as Donald Bice, acting deputy assistant secretary for administration. The amount of the contract is $339,310.60 and it was awarded following a competitive bid process. Perdue said there were three finalists for the contract.
EY has more than 260,000 employees in more than 150 countries.
In a brief speech to NIFA employees and others attending the swearing-in, Angle summarized his career, including work on nutrient management in the Chesapeake Bay, on finding ways to keep heavy metals out of the food supply, and on phytoremediation, the use of plants to clean up contaminated soil, air and water.
He said he has “a deep and abiding interest in research and education” and a “vast knowledge of what goes on at (the Agricultural Research Service).” Of NIFA, he said, “It’s already a great organization.”
He also praised the extension service, 4-H and the National FFA Organization, formerly known as Future Farmers of America.
Up until assuming the NIFA directorship, Angle was president and CEO of the International Fertilizer Development Center in Muscle Shoals, Ala., for three years. Before that, he was Dean and Director of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at the University of Georgia for 10 years.
Angle also was a professor of soil science and executive associate dean at the University of Maryland Agricultural Experiment Station and Maryland Cooperative Extension, from 1981-2005. From 1994 to 2005, he was associate director of the experiment station.
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