Trump war on science: USDA exiles inconvenient researchers

  • Published on May 28th, 2019

Today’s episode of Trump vs Science takes place at the US Department of Agriculture, which is expected to formally announce that it is relocating two research offices today. The Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) have experienced a slew of departures lately in the run-up to Trump appointee and USDA admin Sonny Perdue sending those offices out of DC to other areas of the country.

Science! By Vincent S Lee
Science! By Vincent S Lee

By Climate Denier Roundup

(For the record, Sonny has no relation to the Perdue chicken company, which we know is an odd change of pace for the Donald “Let the swamp run the country” Trump administration.)

According to Perdue, these relocations are intended to send scientists closer to the “stakeholders” and “customers” whose work relies on accurate science. Apparently, one can only provide science to stakeholders in person, because farmers don’t have email or the internet or anything. Unsurprisingly, science and agriculture organizations pretty unanimously oppose the move, suggesting that perhaps there’s an ulterior motive.

And it appears there is! Politico’s Liz Crampton reported Wednesday that basically everyone who’s getting kicked out of DC are from research areas whose findings conflict with the stated positions of the Trump administration: scientists dealing with issues like how climate change impacts agriculture, how Trump’s trade policies are hurting farmers, and the impacts of food stamps.

While the USDA took the unusual step of announcing who would stay and who would go at an in-person meeting in March, as opposed to issuing any sort of formal written notice. So the employees got together and put the list in writing. Of 279 people on staff, only 76 are allowed to stay in DC. Overall, about half of the agency’s economists are being allowed to stay, while only 14 percent of researchers won’t be required to uproot their entire life or find a new job.

Per Crampton, the note “shows a clear emphasis was placed on keeping employees whose work covers relatively non-controversial issues like crop planting over those whose research focused on areas sensitive to the administration.”

As for what triggered the decision to relocate, ERS employees told Crampton that political leadership “turned against the research service after an estimate early last year suggested that the Republican-backed tax plan would largely benefit the wealthiest farmers.”

Fortunately, a spending bill filed in the House on Wednesday would prevent the relocation plan. The bill would also block Perdue from bringing ERS under the remit of the USDA’s chief economist, a move that would allow for a greater degree of political control over the career staffers.

Unfortunately, USDA looks to be moving more quickly than the spending bill: the agency will likely be able to move forward with the relocation this summer before the budget bill moves forward. And even if the bill moves quickly, the Republican-controlled Senate would have to agree to the provisions. This would set up a nice test to see if the GOP really is abandoning its anti-science stance for a more genteel form of delay-based denial.

Regardless, it’s obvious that the USDA is trying to bury facts that prove Trump’s agenda isn’t actually helping those he claims to care about. But facts are like seeds: bury them in a layer of bullshit, and watch ‘em grow.

(Crossposted from DailyKos.)

About the Author