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POLITICO: Democrats request GAO review of ERS, NIFA relocation

Democrats request GAO review of ERS, NIFA relocation


Democrats on the House Science Committee on Wednesday asked the GAO to examine USDA’s relocation of two research agencies, including the cost-benefit analysis used to justify the move.

Democrats on the Agriculture and Appropriations committees as well as other lawmakers have complained about how the Trump administration has handled the move of the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which has resulted in mass attrition and delays in routine economic reports.

“We, along with dozens of stakeholders, have serious concerns that this relocation has generated significant disruptions and will continue to severely disrupt ongoing scientific research while wiping out decades of valuable experience and institutional knowledge,” reads the letter, sent by Reps. Jennifer Wexton of Virginia, Don Beyer of Virginia, Paul Tonko of New York and Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon as well as Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, chairwoman of the committee’s panel on investigations and oversight.

Over the past several months, USDA has declined repeated requests to release the full cost-benefit analysis conducted by Ernst & Young. It has instead released an 11-page executive summary, which claims that moving ERS and NIFA to the Kansas City area would save taxpayers nearly $300 million.

But an analysis by the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association, a professional organization of economists, found that the move could actually result in a cost to taxpayers of $83 million to $182 million, largely because of the lost value of research resulting from employee attrition.

The lawmakers formally asked GAO, Congress' watchdog, to take a look at how USDA summarized the cost-benefit analysis for the public and whether the department followed legal and regulatory requirements in the contract process with the consulting firm.

The letter seeks a response “as soon as possible” either by correspondence or a briefing.

The lawmakers also asked for a broader GAO review on the extent to which the relocation is affecting the mission at ERS and NIFA, both in the short and long term.

They also want the accountability arm to weigh in on whether more oversight is needed “to ensure that any future agency relocation is conducted in an objective way that ensures short- and long-term agency mission continuity.”