A September 7 letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue from Senate Ag Committee Chair Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) asks the secretary to respond to 12 questions about his decision to move the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture out of Washington, D.C.

Related Story: Economic Research Service: Reliable Information’s Last Stand?

Read the Letter from Senators Roberts and Stabenow

Lawmakers are questioning a proposed move by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to relocate two of its offices by late next year.

Earlier this month, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) requested a joint hearing with the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Agriculture Committee to inspect the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ability to legally relocate the two agencies without congressional endorsement.“This bewildering action by the Trump administration would threaten existing USDA agencies whose independence is related to their science and research mandate, which has ensured they need not agree with the specific policies of any particular administration,” Norton said in a statement.On August 9, the USDA announced it planned to move The Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) offices by the end of 2019.“It’s been our goal to make USDA the most effective, efficient, and customer-focused department in the entire federal government,” said USDA Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in a release.

The USDA plans to relocate the Economic Research Service into the Office of the Secretary, a known political office. The Economic Research Service is a federal organization dedicated to researching trends and issues in the environment, agriculture, food and rural areas of the United States.

Additionally, the USDA plans to move the National Institute for Food and Agriculture away from Washington D.C. The National Institute for Food and Agriculture was created to provide funding and resources for agriculture-related science and technology. The office helps support innovation in the long-term sustainability of agriculture.

Norton sees the relocations as potentially harmful to research carried out by the agencies. She has asked appropriators to add a provision to the upcoming spending bill to put a stop to the move.

“No administration should be allowed to silence independent, non-political agencies because their research may at times differ from its policies,” Norton said.

Norton is not the only member of Congress speaking out against the agencies’ move. Others have expressed concern through written letters sent to Perdue.

Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, made a bipartisan effort to illustrate the importance of these agencies.

As noted in a recent letter, the senators backed Norton’s stance.

Roberts and Stabenow agreed the “agencies play a critical role in advancing agricultural research and analysis on topics such as food and nutrition, food safety, global markets and trade, resources and environment and the rural and agricultural economy.”

So far, there have been eight U.S. senators and representatives who have spoken up along with over 100 organizations concerned with the USDA’s decision.

“For the sake of good government, USDA should not be allowed to proceed with their plans for ERS and NIFA until Congress has received USDA’s responses and we have a better understanding of the problem the USDA is addressing and the ramifications of its plan,” said Lisa LaVange, president of the American Statistical Association (ASA).

If the move is successful, it is possible that the ERS and NIFA organizations may be co-located in 2019. New locations have not yet been determined.

This article is republished with permission from the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. The center is a nonprofit, online newsroom offering investigative and enterprise coverage of agribusiness, Big Ag and related issues through data analysis, visualizations, in-depth reports and interactive web tools.

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