Agriculture Department Names Finalists for Disputed Office Relocations
Sites in Indiana, Missouri, Kansas and North Carolina top list.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Friday announced three top localities and two backup sites being considered for the planned relocation of two Washington-based research offices, despite continued resistance by some in Congress and in the academic community.
Out of an original 136 localities that submitted “expressions of interest” for hosting the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the remaining contenders are:
- Purdue University and its nearby Indiana Economic Development Corp.;
- The Greater Kansas City region (in both Kansas and Missouri, including the Kansas City Area Development Council and the Kansas City Animal Health Corridor); and,
- North Carolina’s Research Triangle, which includes Wake County, Durham County and Research Triangle Park.
Two more sites were identified as alternatives in case the top three do “not suit USDA’s needs,” as the release said. They are:
- The St. Louis Regional Consortium, which includes the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, the State of Missouri, the Missouri Agriculture Department and the Missouri Partnership; and,
- The City of Madison, Wis., including the University of Wisconsin–Madison College of Agricultural & Life Sciences; the University of Wisconsin–Madison Office of University Relations; its University Research Park; the State of Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection; and 910 Mayer LLC.
“This short list of locations took into consideration critical factors required to uphold the important missions of ERS and NIFA,” Perdue said. “We also considered factors important to our employees, such as quality of life. Relocation will help ensure USDA is the most effective, most efficient and most customer-focused agency in the federal government, allowing us to be closer to our stakeholders and move our resources closer to our customers. Our commitment to the public and our employees is to continue to be transparent as we proceed with our analysis.”
His announcement repeated past factors such as building leases and employee housing costs, communications infrastructure, access to healthcare, and proximity to “customers” and airports.
The announcement was immediately blasted by the American Statistical Association, which since last August has been leading a campaign to block the moves it considers arbitrary and disruptive to the agriculture research community’s agendas in Washington.
USDA’s announcement “underscores its unilateral and evidence-lite approach to addressing the future of U.S. food and agriculture research,” ASA Executive Director Ron Wasserstein said. “Any gains that USDA asserts will result from relocating ERS and NIFA away from our nation’s research, food and agricultural policymaking are overwhelmingly outweighed by the detrimental impacts. USDA has neither made a compelling case for such an upheaval nor listened to their own stakeholders, experts and leaders. Adding insult to injury, they have bypassed the 155-year partnership with land grant universities and Congress that has been a hallmark in determining American agricultural and food research policy.”