USDA Extends Deadline for Responses on NIFA/ERS Relocation
By: Lowell Randel
On Friday, September 7th, USDA issued a press release that it is extending the deadline for expressions of interest for the new headquarters for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Economic Research Service (ERS). The proposed move of NIFA and ERS outside of the National Capitol Region (NCR) was first announced on August 9th, with an original deadline of September 14, 2018. That deadline has been moved back 30 days to October 15, 2018. Secretary Purdue stated that the extension is in response to stakeholder requests for more time to prepare and submit proposals for hosting ERS and NIFA. Those interested in submitting an expression of interest can do so through the Regulations.gov website.
According to USDA, the relocation would have the following benefits:
- Improve USDA’s ability to attract and retain highly qualified staff with training and interests in agriculture, many of whom come from land-grant universities. USDA has experienced significant turnover in some positions, and it has been difficult to recruit employees to the Washington, DC area, particularly given the high cost of living and long commutes.
- Place these important USDA resources closer to many of stakeholders, most of whom live and work far from the Washington, DC area.
- Benefit the American taxpayers. There will be significant savings on employment costs and rent, which will allow more employees to be retained in the long run, even in the face of tightening budgets.
The proposed relocation of NIFA and ERS has generated questions and concerns across the science and agriculture communities. ASAS has been actively working with coalitions such as the National Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research (N-CFAR) and the AFRI Coalition regarding the relocation proposal and has recently co-signed letters to Congress and USDA requesting an extension of the deadline, as well as a more formal public comment process for stakeholders to provide input on the proposed move. The letters also raise questions about the potential impacts of relocation on NIFA and ERS programs.
ASAS also recently participated in a meeting at USDA to discuss these questions and express the need for better coordination and communication between the department and the stakeholder community regarding the proposed relocation. USDA recognized the importance of engaging with the stakeholder community but has not indicated what mechanisms may be used to facilitate future stakeholder communications. USDA also acknowledged the need for NIFA and ERS to maintain some presence in the NCR to foster partnerships with sister federal science agencies and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. However, it is unclear what NIFA’s presence in DC would look like after the relocation.
ASAS will continue to actively engage with USDA and partner organizations across science and agriculture as the process moves forward.