Important Changes at the Economic Research Service

The Secretary of Agriculture announced on Thursday, August 9 that the Economic Research Service will undergo several significant changes in the coming year. USDA is moving ERS out of the Research, Education, and Economics area of the USDA to the Secretary’s Office of the Chief Economist.  The rationale is that this move will better align the missions of ERS and the Chief Economist.

In addition, most ERS and NIFA personnel will have to relocate outside of the Washington, DC metro area to an undetermined location. In fact, USDA also announced on August 9, its search for a site selection consultant to help with this process. Since the new locations have yet to be determined, it is possible that ERS and NIFA may be co-located when their new homes are found as expected by the end of 2019.

Finally, USDA recently announced that Mary Bohman, the Administrator of the Economic Research Service, will move to a new position the Office of the Administrator, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to serve as Associate Administrator (Economics), on September 2, 2018.

USDA Secretary Perdue provided the following reasons for these changes:

“1. To improve (their) ability to attract and retain highly qualified staff with training and interests in agriculture, many of whom come from our land-grant universities. (They’ve) seen significant turnover in these positions, and it has been difficult to recruit employees to the Washington, DC area, particularly given the high cost of living and long commutes.

2. To place these important USDA resources closer to many of (their) stakeholders, most of whom live and work far from the DC area.

3. To benefit the American taxpayers. There will be significant savings on employment costs and rent, which will allow more employees to be retained in the long run, even in the face of tightening budgets.”

These are controversial changes that have significant impacts on public statistics and signal intent by the Trump Administration to move forward on other changes to agencies, especially if they can be done through administrative action. Former USDA ERS Commission Katherine Smith Evans, now of the American Economic Association, recently wrote an editorial on proposed funding cuts for ERS – the agency faces significant threats to funding, staff, and mission.  APDU will keep you informed as further as this issue develops and will join with others to serve as your voice to address our shared concerns on these issues.