Earlier this month, to the outrage of current employees, members of Congress, and outside observers, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the decision to relocate two Department of Agriculture research agencies to Kansas City, Missouri.
Perdue’s argument for moving the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture out of Washington D.C. is that the move will lower living costs, save taxpayer dollars and move the agencies closer to “stakeholders.” But we see right through that.
When Sonny Perdue was nominated by the Trump administration in 2017 to oversee the USDA, alarm bells went off, as Perdue had extensive ties to agribusiness and has consistently received a large number of donations from agribusiness interests throughout his political career.
Equally concerning? Perdue has a complete disregard for the accepted science of climate change. And employees believe this is the real motivation behind the agencies’ forced move to Kansas City. This proposed move is politically driven, and a way to disrupt climate research and other work these agencies are doing with which Perdue disagrees.
Perdue’s announcement fits in with the anti-science agenda this administration is pushing, following numerous misguided appointments and nominations of non-scientists, climate deniers, and agribusiness shills in positions of power over our food and farming system.
Employees turn their backs
During the meeting in which Perdue announced this decision, employees of the agencies stood up and turned their backs in silent protest.
USDA employee Kevin Hunt penned an opinion piece for the Kansas City Star in which he strongly condemned the proposed move, sharing that he himself and many of his colleagues are from small towns and farming communities in the Midwest. They pursued these jobs to represent rural America in Washington D.C., so Perdue’s assertion that the move would bring the agencies closer to “stakeholders” is a bunch of hot air. Hunt shared these powerful words:
[Perdue’s] plan is silencing necessary research and analysis that our land grant universities, 1890s colleges, extension system and the private sector use on a daily basis to communicate critical data to American farmers. We are a voice in the capital for rural America, made up of rural Americans, bringing data-driven analysis to the public sphere.
The relocation plan has also drawn opposition from Congress -- House Democrats included language in their budget banning USDA from using funds allocated by Congress to relocate either agency outside the capital. And a group of Democratic Senators have introduced legislation that would bar USDA from moving the research agencies.
Perdue’s plan will not make the USDA work better, as he claims. This abrupt relocation will only create dysfunction and distraction within these important research agencies — exactly what this administration wants.