The American Association for the Advancement of Science and more than a dozen land grant universities have signed a letter urging Senate appropriators to stop the Department of Agriculture from moving two research agencies to Kansas City.
The letter, sent to leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the subcommittee that controls USDA’s annual budget, argues that relocating the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture undermines the agencies and “jeopardizes the efficacy of state, local, private, and non-governmental sector funding for agricultural research and extension.”
The plan “sends a clear message that agricultural research is not as important as research funded by the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, the National Institutes of Health, and numerous other major research agencies. Simply put, these actions would needlessly unravel a strong system that provides innumerous benefits to our nation’s productivity, profitability, and rural economy and human health."
AAAS is the world's largest multidisciplinary scientific organization and publishes Science and related journals.
Universities or university agricultural schools represented on the letter include: Cornell; Michigan State; Montana State; Ohio State; Oregon State; Penn State; South Dakota State; the University of California branches at Berkeley, Davis and Riverside; the universities of Maryland, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Vermont; and Washington State.
Other signers included the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges.
Two fiscal 2020 appropriations bills approved by the Democratic-controlled House this week, including legislation to fund USDA, include provisions to stop the relocation. However, the provisions would not take effect before the new budget year starts Oct. 1, and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is trying to complete the relocation by Sept. 30. The Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to start writing its version of those bills.
ERS and NIFA employees have until July 15 to decide whether to move or leave the agencies.
According to a union survey, nearly 70% of the ERS employees who have been ordered to move to Kansas City have decided to leave the agency instead, and more are considering quitting.
Perdue says he hopes that the survey is inaccurate but that he is committed to filling any vacancies that occur. “We are recruiting already for new positions there that may be opening for those we know who definitely will not be going,” he said Wednesday.
President Donald Trump's budgets both proposed cutting the ERS staff in half and eliminating some research areas, leading some critics to suggest the relocation was a means to carry that out.
There are currently two listings for ERS economists on the government’s official job site, USAJobs.gov.
Perdue has two key allies on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Roy Blunt of Missouri and Jerry Moran of Kansas, and the Senate Agriculture Committee is chaired by another supporter of the relocation, Pat Roberts, R-Kan.
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