USDA relocates expert economists, researchers who challenge Trump policies: report

USDA relocates expert economists, researchers who challenge Trump policies: report
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The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is moving expert economists and researchers whose work challenges President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment Trump appears to set personal record for tweets in a day MORE's policies out of Washington D.C., Politico reported Wednesday.

Almost all researchers who work on the economic effects of climate change, trade policy and food stamps in the agency are being moved out of the capital in what they described to Politico as a political crackdown.

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Employees of the USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS) were reportedly told last year by Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerduePlan to lift roadless rule in Alaska's Tongass national forest threatens economy House Democrat asks USDA to halt payouts to Brazilian meatpacker under federal probe From state agriculture departments to Congress: Our farmers need the USMCA MORE that most of the agency would be relocated outside the capital.

On March 5, the department began notifying people who were allowed to stay in Washington but didn’t provide a comprehensive list, only telling employees in person whether they had made the cut.

Current and former employees independently made a list, covering all 279 people on staff, which reportedly found that 76 are being allowed to stay in the capital.

The current and former employees told Politico the specialties of those being asked to move correspond closely to the areas where economic assessments often clash with Trump's policies, including tax policies, climate change and farms.

“This was a clear politicization of the agency many of us loved for its non-partisan research and analysis,” a current ERS employee told the outlet, claiming that department leaders picked those whose work was more likely to offend the administration and forced them to move “out or quit.”

"You can draw the conclusion that these are the less valued activities that are undertaken by ERS," said a former researcher who left last month in anticipation of being moved. "They view ERS as being useful in that it produces data and statistics that can inform policy but the research that’s done by the economists and geographers and statisticians at ERS is less valuable and that they’re not concerned with a significant deterioration in ERS’ ability to do research.”

Perdue, however, denied the relocations were political.

“We don’t undertake these relocations lightly, and we are doing it to improve performance and the services these agencies provide,” Perdue said in a statement to The Hill. “We will be placing important USDA resources closer to many stakeholders, most of whom live and work far from Washington, D.C.”

“None of this reflects on the jobs being done by our ERS or NIFA employees, and in fact, I frequently tell my Cabinet colleagues that USDA has the best workforce in the federal government.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill on Politico's report.

--This report was updated on May 23 at 8:23 a.m.