Agricultural scientists are deeply unhappy with a plan by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to move two of its research agencies out of Washington, D.C. However, to date, their objections have gone largely unheeded, as the scientists find themselves outmaneuvered politically and lacking the clout to convince Congress to intervene. Instead, USDA hopes to pick a new location by the end of next month and complete the moves by the end of 2019.
On 9 August, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced plans to relocate the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) in Washington, D.C., USDA’s primary source of competitive grants for academic research, and the Economic Research Service (ERS), its major in-house research and statistical office. He also said that ERS would be reporting to the department’s chief economist (see sidebar) rather than its undersecretary for research, education, and economics (REE), which also oversees NIFA and the Agricultural Research Service. In a shrewd political tactic, Perdue simultaneously invited communities to compete for the opportunity to host the two agencies and gain the 700 jobs that would be transferred.
Perdue said the move would bring those agencies closer to the farmers and ranchers who ultimately benefit from the research that NIFA funds and the analyses and number crunching that ERS conducts. He also claimed the move would save money through cheaper rent and enable USDA to attract and retain top scientists now repelled by the high cost of living in the nation’s capital.