Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced May 3 the top three finalists and two alternative locations still in the running for the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture new headquarters.
The top finalists are multiple locations in Indiana, the Greater Kansas City Region and the Research Triangle Region. The alternative sites are in St. Louis and Madison, Wisconsin.
Related: USDA's Perdue announces 3 finalists for research offices
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue last year proposed moving the two agencies outside Washington, D.C. Nearly 60 former USDA and federal statistical agency officials have called on Perdue to abandon the plans.
The move isn’t popular with Democratic lawmakers, but Republicans have stood behind the administration. The House revived previously unpublished conference report language in an attempt to obtain a “detailed analysis” and cost estimates of the proposed move of both ERS and NIFA.
Reps. Chellie Pingree and Sanford Bishop introduced the Agriculture Research Integrity Act of 2019, which opposes the relocations of the ERS and NIFA outside the nation’s capital.
Related: 67 locations still in the running to be new ERS, NIFA home
The impending relocation is having an impact on the agency.
Politico reports six economists with more than 50 years of experience left on a single day in late April, joining a steady flow of economists leaving the agency. Some current and former ERS economists told Politico they view the relocation as a form of punishment for the agency’s findings that don’t always align with the administration.
And while Perdue steams forward, the people in Indiana wonder where the “multiple locations” are.
The location of Indiana’s finalist remains a secret to the public. The proposal was submitted by Purdue University, the Indiana Economic Development Corp., and Gov. Eric Holcomb’s administration, but no details have been provided on the location, with the Indiana Economic Development Corporation saying its negotiations are confidential. – Indianapolis Business Journal
In Kansas City, the Kansas City Area Development Council is excited to be chosen a finalist.
"Without a doubt, the Kansas City region is the best location for these essential federal facilities," said Tim Cowden, president and CEO, Kansas City Area Development Council, in a media statement. "Our region is home to a concentration of existing USDA assets, workforce and security operations. Add to that our 100-plus-year legacy of leadership in the agriculture and animal health industries, and a location in the KC area would truly be a homecoming for the USDA."
Bakers of the Research Triangle area are also excited to be on the short list.
“We believe Wake County and the entire Research Triangle are well-positioned for this transformational project and have many unique, strategic advantages not found anywhere else in the country,” Michael Haley, executive director of Wake County Economic Development and senior vice president at the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, told WRAL Tech Wire.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition opposes the move, citing the loss of skilled staff, potential for politicization of the nonpartisan research agencies and the lack of cost benefit or other documentation from USDA showing the moves will accomplish the goals Perdue has outlined.
“If the Secretary insists on turning a deaf ear to the cacophony of opposition to this move, a litany of negative ramifications are in store,” the NSAC said in a media statement. “The uprooting of these core research agencies will undoubtedly weaken our national research infrastructure by triggering the loss of valuable staff expertise, isolating the agencies from the DMV’s (Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia) robust community of scientists and federal partners, and leaving agricultural research out of the critical policy debates centered in our nation’s capital.”
USDA says it expects to complete the move by the end of the year.