May 23, 2019

Van Hollen, Senators Introduce Bill to Bar USDA Research Agencies from Leaving National Capital Region

Today U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) introduced the Agriculture Research Integrity Act, which would bar the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from reorganizing and moving the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Economic Research Service (ERS) out of the National Capital Region. Experts agree that Secretary Perdue’s proposal would undermine their effectiveness and relevance, and the rank-and-file staff opposes the move – just yesterday, it was reported that federal employees at both agencies “have quit in unusually large numbers” since the Secretary announced he would relocate the offices.

“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 Senator Van Hollen. “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.”

“Once again, the Trump Administration is seeking to marginalize scientists and independent research, choosing to scatter federal employees and potentially politicize what has historically been the work of nonpartisan civil servants,” said Senator Cardin. “With this bill, Congress has an opportunity to show it’s respect for our federal workforce and their work in advancing agriculture, food, the environment, and rural America on behalf of all Americans.”

“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 Senator Kaine.

“The proposed relocation of the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture from the National Capital Region could severely impact the ability of these agencies to carry out their critical research missions,” said Senator Warner. “These agencies provide invaluable research that drives agricultural, nutritional, and environmental policy in the U.S. Removing these agencies from the National Capital Region would negatively impact their work by disconnecting them from other vital research agencies located in the region and could impact their ability to attract and retain highly-qualified personnel.”

“The National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Economic Research Service carry out vital science and research missions that our nation’s farmers, consumers, and lawmakers rely on.  Uprooting those agencies and their staffs would undermine those missions.  That would be a ‘solution’ to a problem that doesn’t exist,” said Senator Leahy.

“The National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Economic Research Service play a critical role in ensuring that our agriculture industry remains a global leader and can meet the needs of American families for generations to come,” said Senator Merkley. “There is no reason why taxpayer money should be wasted on moving these research facilities hundreds of miles away, far from the officials who make sure their findings are honest and not influenced by politics or food manufacturers. I’m urging all of my colleagues in Congress to protect the future of American agriculture by saying no to any plan to move these essential agencies.”

“We rely on these workers to provide quality research about our food, our farming and our rural economy, and they deserve a say in this process. Uprooting families and workers is a bad idea that undermines productivity,” said Senator Brown.   

“U.S. farmers face constant uncertainty – not least of which comes from the extreme weather variability brought on by a changing climate. Secretary 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. 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 Senator Van Hollen for leading the way,” said Rebecca Boehm, an economist for Union of Concerned Scientists’ Food and Environment program

“Under the Trump administration, the USDA is suppressing the publication of scientific research that ERS employees conduct and has proposed upending employees’ lives by relocating the agency outside the nation’s capital,” said American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. “Just like we have been standing up and fighting back against numerous other anti-worker proposals from the Trump Administration, we will join the employees at ERS and NIFA in fighting against efforts to relocate them and politicize their research. AFGE thanks Senator Van Hollen for introducing this important legislation that will aid in our fight for fairness for these federal workers.”

“The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the farmers we represent from all regions of the country applaud the sponsors for introducing this bill.  We believe that nothing less than the future of public agricultural research and objective, policy-relevant economic analysis is at stake.  We encourage the Senate to follow the House lead and prohibit the misguided, unauthorized, and unfunded effort to move and undermine NIFA and ERS,” said Nichelle Harriott, Policy Specialist at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC).

The House companion bill has been introduced by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and language prohibiting the ERS and NIFA move was included in the House Agriculture funding bill released yesterday.