Opinion: ERS relocation nothing more than political retribution

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Now that the dust has settled on the move of USDA's Economic Research Service from Washington D.C. to Kansas City we can take stock. 

Over at the ERS's former offices at 225 E Street SW the place is for all intents and purposes a grave yard – even the pictures of corn fields, tractors and cattle have been pulled down from the walls – for truly the ERS has been ruined for the foreseeable future by the move.

Put all the blame at the feet of USDA Secretary Sonny (I'm not a POTUS toady really!) Perdue who forced the move claiming ERS employees needed to be more in touch with the farmers they serve.

For the very beginning of the Trump administration the ERS's non-partisan independent scientific research has been inconveniently out of step with the POTUS political agenda.

At first the POTUS expressed his anger toward the ERS by attempting to slash the agency's budget.

When that failed to send the desired message, Perdue gave the ERS 90 days notice of a move to Kansas City with, I got to believe, unspoken hopes of decimating the staff.

Well, congratulations Perdue.  Mission accomplished. Here's the particulars as of September 30, the report date ordered by Perdue for employees to report to Kansas City:

·         Roughly 80 EAS civil service employees found jobs elsewhere in the federal government.

·         Nine EAS staffers found work in academia.

·         Another nine EAS staffers are now employed in the private sector.

·         More than 50 EAS civil workers took early retirement rather than be forced to uproot their families to Kansas City.

That's 148 people.  Talk about your brain drain.  And how many have made the move thus far? - just sixteen.  Let me say that again: Sixteen.

Purdue also ran roughshod over Congress' budgeting authority.  USDA's own Inspector General found Purdue did not acquire congressional approval  to spend money on the relocation – a violation of the 2018 spending bill.

Perdue said he has to put ERS more in touch with farmers...as he puts it the “customers” they serve.

Well that's news to ERS workers in Washington D.C.  and a crock to me.

Numerous ERS staffers commuted in daily from the rural landscapes of Maryland and Virginia.  Heck even one ERS economist was a farmer. 

I say “was” because the dude had to liquate his farm to move to Kansas City.

So … let me be clear.  This is about politics and nothing more. 

The long-term effects of attrition can't be denied.  There's already talk that more than 30 current  ERS reports will be eliminated.

More and more Perdue has shown himself, for all this talk and bluster, not really all that caring or sympathetic about the daily problems of our nation's farmers.  I wonder if producers will give that some thought next year at the ballot box.

About Dave Dickey

Dave Dikcey

Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for the Midwest Center covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. His opinions are his own and do not reflect the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. Email him at dave.dickey@investigatemidwest.org.