House Agriculture Committee Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research Chair Stacey Plaskett delivered the following remarks at the subcommittee hearing on Examining the Impacts of Relocating USDA Research Agencies on Agriculture Research.
[As prepared for delivery]
“Thank you for joining us to examine the impacts of relocating the Economic Research Service and the National Institute Food Agriculture. The decision to relocate ERS and NIFA lacks transparency and is not supported by an overwhelming majority of stakeholders who partner with the agencies.
“Secretary Perdue’s claim that the research agencies are better served elsewhere is misconstrued.
“Any reforms to USDA’s research agencies must have clear benefits to ag research and be conducted in a transparent manner. Secretary Perdue’s proposal lacks both.
“Not only were stakeholders entirely cut out of this process, they were blindsided by the announcement from USDA last August. And to date, the actual benefits to ag research or an economic analysis of this proposal have not been conveyed.
“ERS and NIFA are already understaffed well below their appropriated staffing levels. Instead of pushing forward a proposal that will only exacerbate staff losses, USDA should be working to adequately staff these agencies. The agency is still catching up from a 35-day shutdown. Further reducing staff only weakens the agencies’ ability to operate or respond to future events. Staff losses directly translate into a loss of critical institutional knowledge and decreased capacity to implement the very programs we just authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill.
“This proposal will undermine the integrity of these agencies and their ability to operate, and it was followed by an FY20 Budget Request which proposed cutting the number of ERS employees in half. This relocation announcement seems to me like a step towards an overall goal of staff reduction.
“Relocation will limit the agencies’ ability to coordinate and cooperate with other federal entities based in the national capital region- such as other federal departments, the National Academies, and the National Science Foundation. Agriculture research does not take place in a vacuum, and modern science is complex and interdisciplinary. We should be encouraging collaboration, not isolating agencies.
”In consultation with the Ranking Member and pursuant to Rule 11(e), I want to make Members of the Subcommittee aware that other Members of the Full Committee may join us today.”