Locations in Indiana, the Greater Kansas City region and North Carolina’s Research Triangle are the finalists for the new homes of the Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
USDA made the announcement Friday, with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue saying the “short list of locations took into consideration critical factors required to uphold the important missions of ERS and NIFA” as well as “factors important to our employees, such as quality of life.”
“Relocation will help ensure USDA is the most effective, most efficient, and most customer-focused agency in the federal government, allowing us to be closer to our stakeholders and move our resources closer to our customers," he added. "Our commitment to the public and our employees is to continue to be transparent as we proceed with our analysis.”
Two other locations that didn’t make the top three — St. Louis and Madison, Wis. — “remain under consideration as alternative locations should the top three locations not suit USDA’s needs,” the department said in its news release.
The proposed moves have drawn considerable criticism from Democratic members of Congress, former ERS and NIFA administrators, and numerous outside groups, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association and American Statistical Association.
One of those groups, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, released a statement saying it is "deeply disappointed that the administration continues to push forward its ill-conceived plan to relocate two of our country’s premier research agencies.” NSAC said the “relocation and reorganization plan has been resoundingly criticized by countless experts and stakeholders – including members of Congress and even USDA ERS employees themselves, who are currently organizing a unionization effort to stop the relocation.”
NSAC said the “uprooting of these core research agencies will undoubtedly weaken our national research infrastructure by triggering the loss of valuable staff expertise, isolating the agencies from the (District-Maryland-Virginia’s) robust community of scientists and federal partners, and leaving agricultural research out of the critical policy debates centered in our nation’s capital.”
The proposal to move the two agencies has resulted in loss of staff, NSAC said. “Both ERS and NIFA are currently operating with significantly reduced capacity, as the lack of support and investment from this Administration increasingly pushes experienced researchers and experts to seek other employment.”
USDA said it is looking at multiple locations in Indiana based on applications from the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, Purdue University and the state of Indiana. Other finalists are the Greater Kansas City Region in Missouri and Kansas, and the Research Triangle Region in North Carolina.
USDA said it narrowed the list of applicants “using a set of established criteria defined by USDA, NIFA, and ERS leadership.” They included:
- Quality of Life: Subcategory examples include Diversity Index, Residential Housing Costs, Access to Healthcare, and Home and Community Safety Ranking.
- Costs (Capital and Operating): Subcategory examples include Commercial Real Estate Costs, CPI Index, and Wage Costs.
- Workforce: Subcategory examples include Labor Force Growth Rate, Unemployment Rate, and the Labor Force Population.
- Logistics / IT Infrastructure: Subcategory examples include Lodging Availability, Proximity to Customers, and Airport Accessibility.
USDA initially narrowed the list from 136 “expressions of interest” to 68 in March.
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