Thursday, February 27, 2020

USDA's Economic Research Service missing 2/3 of staff after agency move; could hamper agricultural lawmaking

"The Economic Research Service is missing nearly two out of every three employees after Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue uprooted the agency from Washington to Kansas City last year," Ryan McCrimmon reports for Politico. "The extensive vacancies are derailing vital research and demoralizing the skeleton crew of workers at the new offices."

Five months later, only 41 of 233 positions at the new offices have been filled, according to an internal USDA memo. "Current and former staff describe a bleak atmosphere at ERS, which publishes scientific research on farming, trade, nutrition, rural economics, the environment and more," McCrimmon reports. "USDA officials say they’re mounting a vigorous hiring process — but in the meantime, there’s a daunting shortage of institutional knowledge at the agency."

That's important because farmers, commodity traders and lawmakers who write ag policy often rely on ERS reports. Employees say the staffing shortages have hampered production of studies, but a USDA spokesperson said the ERS has published all reports on time and said its research output is comparable to 2018. "But researchers disputed that characterization, arguing that many of the studies being published now have been in the works since before the relocation," McCrimmon reports.

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