Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on March 12 announced a revised list of cities for the Trump administration’s relocation of the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food Agriculture. The list has narrowed from 136 to 67.

“The announcement of this middle list shows that we are committed to the important missions of these agencies and transparency in our selection process. USDA will make the best choice for our employees and customers,” Perdue said. “Relocation will help ensure that 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.”

For this initial down-select, a U.S. Department of Agriculture release said it applied a set of guiding principles against the Expressions of Interest locations including USDA travel requirements, labor force statistics and work hours most compatible with all USDA office schedules.

Leading the field of candidate sites is Illinois, with nine potential locations. Next is Virginia with eight, Ohio with six and Iowa with five. Twenty-eight states still have sites in the running.

Regionally, Colorado has four sites on the list, while Texas and the Kansas City area have three sites each, Nebraska has two sites and the St. Louis area has one site.

USDA plans to create a shortlist within the next month, begin “site visits” in late April and select a final location before the end of May, according to an email Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Steve Censky sent employees as recently reported by Politico.

The relocation effort “continues to be a priority for the secretary and we are committed to providing you with transparency throughout this process,” Censky wrote.

The American Statistical Association board of directors issued a statement of concern last December over the USDA’s August 2018 relocation announcement of ERS and NIFA staff. Ron Wasserstein, executive director of ASA, continued stating those concerns to The Hagstrom Report, “We’re disappointed to see USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue persisting in his plans to uproot the USDA research arm, despite the overwhelming concerns of its former leaders and the greater statistical and agricultural research community.”

“The USDA leadership developed their plans without consulting any of the agency’s current or former research and statistical heads or the broader research community,” Wasserstein said. “With that community now having strongly voiced its concerns and opposition, USDA seems intent to proceed without course corrections.”

USDA Inspector General Phyllis Fong told the House Agriculture-FDA Appropriations Subcommittee March 12 that her office would soon complete a report on the administration’s plans, with a focus on whether the department has legal or budgetary authority to relocate the research agencies, and whether it followed proper procedures.

“We have just about finished our field work,” Fong said.

Larry Dreiling can be reached at 785-628-1117 or ldreiling@hpj.com.

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