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Chairwomen Fudge and Plaskett send letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on ERS/ NIFA relocation

Washington, June 27, 2019

Chairwomen Fudge and Plaskett send letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on ERS/ NIFA relocation

WASHINGTON (June 27, 2019) – Today, House Agriculture Committee Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight and, Department Operations Chair Marcia L. Fudge, and Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research Chair Stacey E. Plaskett sent a letter to the Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue outlining additional questions on the proposed move of ERS and NIFA to Kansas City.

The letter can be found here:

June 27, 2019

 

The Honorable Sonny Perdue

Secretary of Agriculture

United States Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Avenue SW

Washington, DC 20250

 

Dear Secretary Perdue,

 

In your outline of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Strategic Goals for Fiscal Years 2018-2022, you declared your intentions to “ensure USDA programs are delivered efficiently, effectively, and with integrity and a focus on customer service.”  While these are admirable goals, we write to express our continued concerns with the actions you have taken with respect to the Research, Education, and Economics mission area that directly run counter to this objective.

 

At a time when farmers and ranchers are facing increasingly slim margins and adverse weather conditions, advancements in research and economic analysis are critical to ensuring those in the agriculture industry can remain competitive.  Your proposal to relocate the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Economic Research Service (ERS) will drastically impact USDA’s ability to efficiently and effectively serve struggling producers and rural communities.  This relocation effort will only exacerbate staff losses within agencies that are already understaffed.  According to a recent preliminary survey conducted by the union representing ERS employees, up to 80 percent of employees could choose to separate from the agency rather than move to the Kansas City Region.  Similar staff losses are to be expected for NIFA.  This is deeply troubling.  If this misguided move is pushed forward, USDA will lose valued employees, critical institutional knowledge, and the ability to adequately serve stakeholders in a time of great need.

 

On June 25, 2019, we met with USDA representatives to discuss the relocation effort.  We were dissatisfied with the answers provided in response to our questions.  Your Department has yet to provide a justifiable, rational basis for the relocation, identify enough funding to pay for the move and employee buyouts, or elaborate on a plan to minimize staff losses and ensure uninterrupted services to stakeholders.  If improving “customer service” is your goal, we fail to see how undermining key research agencies better serves farmers, ranchers, consumers, and rural communities.

 

We thank you for sending us documents related to relocation efforts.  After reviewing this information, we have additional questions that we would like addressed:

  1. You have identified 190 employees who are eligible for retirement.  Does this include employees who are eligible for Voluntary Early Retirement Authority (VERA) benefits? If not, how many additional employees are eligible for VERA benefits?
  2. Diversity within an agency’s workforce is critically important.  What consideration was given to the availability of qualified minority applicants in the Kansas City Region when compared to the National Capital Region?
  3. Please provide the total number of employees within each office/division as well number of employees within each office/division identified for relocation.
  4. In the Cost Benefit Analysis, USDA noted the Kansas City Region offered an incentives package valued at $26 million.  What specific incentives did the Kansas City Region offer and what is the timeline for the application of these benefits?
  5. Does USDA intend to utilize independent contractors for ERS and NIFA if subsequent staff losses threaten the agencies’ abilities to preform daily functions?

 

We also request USDA provide a plan for preventing gaps in services to stakeholders throughout the relocation process.  We are skeptical about your desire to staff the agencies at their appropriated levels, given they are already greatly understaffed, and the USDA Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Summary proposed further staff cuts.  To ensure we understand the staffing challenges that USDA will face following this relocation process, we request an update on July 15, 2019 detailing how many employees for each agency have declined their relocation offers.  As NIFA works to administer grants near the end of the fiscal year and ERS works on reports critical to the agriculture community, we intend to ensure these agencies are fulfilling their responsibilities.

 

It is our shared goal to improve agriculture research and departmental operations.  We believe this is best done through robust funding, interagency coordination, and strong staffing initiatives, not unnecessary agency relocations.  We look forward to receiving concrete answers that address our concerns, and we appreciate your attention to this important matter.           

 

Respectfully,

Marcia L. Fudge  

Chair   

House Agriculture Committee       

Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight and Department Operations             

                                                                                                                                        

Stacey E. Plaskett

Chair

House Agriculture Committee

Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research

 

 

 


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