USDA Agencies Remain Understaffed
It has been a little over a year since the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) relocated from Washington, D.C. to Kansas City, Missouri. The decision to move the research agencies came in September 2019 as an effort to make the agencies closer to the farmers they support. Due to the lack of interest or ability in moving cross-country, both agencies are experiencing understaffing problems.
The ERS examines issues including the rural economy, international trade, food safety, and programs that provide food assistance to poor Americans. NIFA collaborates with leading scientists, policymakers, experts, and educators in organizations throughout the world to find innovative solutions to the most pressing local and global problems.
Dan O’Brien, a grain market specialist at Kansas State University Research and Extension, acknowledged to ABC News that farmers have increasingly been questioning the reliability of the government’s agricultural data over the past few years. However, he said those frustrations have dealt more with reports published by other USDA agencies, and that some farmers may be confusing them.
The move anticipated around 550 job openings to help the local economy. Currently, both agencies have 235 vacancies and are continuing to hire despite the pandemic. “Here, when we need really good, hard information, you are really starting to question groups like USDA, which before that had a sterling reputation,” said Vance Ehmke, a farmer. “But out in the country, people are worried about how good the information is now because those groups are operating at half capacity.”
“USDA has an outstanding workforce, but we lost some of the nation’s best economists and agricultural scientists in the previous administration,” Matt Herrick, USDA spokesperson said in a statement to Federal News Network. “It will take time for the new administration to rebuild USDA’s scientific and research agencies and restore their confidence and morale. That means beginning to fill open positions and building a scientific and research workforce for the future. The new team is committed to making USDA a place where bright, talented people want to work and where scientific integrity is safeguarded.”