The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NAFA) and the Economic Research Service (ERS) have each lost between 50 and 75 percent of their staff since June 2019. That is when U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue announced these two USDA agencies would be relocating to Kansas City from D.C., per the Washington Post.
Following major staff resignations, some ERS projects were completely abandoned and dozens of reports had been delayed by mid-September, per Politico. The delayed reports included topics like international markets, high-demand commodities, organic foods, obesity, the opioid epidemic, and more.
While some reports have been published by skeleton crews, they have been less extensive. Report delays and dilutions may continue until new hires are properly trained and acclimated to their roles.
In addition to reports, millions of dollars of funding transfers are being delayed, some of which go to partner universities for research salaries and materials.
This week, to add to the ensuing controversy, USDA’s Inspector General launched a probe into potential burying of data related to climate science. In one instance, USDA officials allegedly sought to downplay findings about rising carbon dioxide levels depressing key nutrient content in rice. This reportedly led to at least one USDA crop scientist’s resignation.
USDA reportedly spends 1 percent of its annual budget on climate related research, likely in part due to the politically sensitive nature of the topic.