February 24, 2019

Congress Puts on the Breaks for the ERS

Congress asks USDA for more details on ERS, NIFA move

Congress has put the brakes on the USDA’s plans to relocate the Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) outside Washington, DC. Congress has also taken steps to stop a restructuring at the USDA that would move the ERS from the research arm of the USDA to the USDA office of the chief economist.

Before moving forward with the relocation and restructuring, Congress has asked for more details on how the plan will work financially and how it could affect research. This direction was included as part of the fiscal year 2019 (FY19) consolidated appropriations act.

“In submitting the fiscal year 2020 budget justification, the Department is directed to include all cost estimates for the proposed move of the two agencies, as well as a detailed analysis of any research benefits of their relocation. There is an expectation that this process will be followed in the future for any other potential proposed agency relocations by the Department,” wrote members of Congress in explanatory statement language.

Regarding the ERS restructuring, again Congress asked for more information and supported an “indefinite delay” as “several questions remain” about the impact of the plans.

The same week that the appropriations bill was passed, Reps. Chellie Pingree (D., Maine), Sanford Bishop (D., Ga), and 12 other members of Congress reintroduced the Agriculture Research Integrity Act of 2019 (ARIA), H.R.1221, which would reaffirm the greater DC area as the primary location of ERS and NIFA. The bill would also keep ERS under the department’s research arm.

Supporters of the bill say that keeping these branches of the USDA near the capital keeps researchers, producers and other stakeholders connected with policy makers and keeps important work from being disrupted during a relocation. Pingree also argues that including the ERS as part of the USDA’s research arm helps protect against bias.

Others say the relocations would bring researchers closer to the agricultural communities that they need to work with. As of January, 136 locations in 35 states had been put forward as possible relocation sites.

Read more in Feedstuffs: Congress takes action to limit USDA's planned ERS, NIFA move