Over a dozen USDA employees stood and turned their backs on Sonny Perdue Thursday as the U.S. agriculture secretary detailed the relocation of two of the federal agency’s key research offices out of Washington, D.C.
Purdue was speaking at an “all hands meeting” of employees of the two agencies in question: the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which both recently unionized to protest the reorganization. ERS and NIFA, as Union of Concerned Scientists economist Rebecca Boehm recently wrote, perform work “which directly supports farmers while protecting our food.”
At least three agency employees, a video of the protest from CNN shows, shook their heads when Perdue said their primary concern about the imminent move was how it would be a “personal disruption.” The Hill has video of a portion of the protest as well.
While the move out of Washington, D.C.—seen as a move to sideline science—was expected for nearly a year, employees found out only earlier in the morning through a letter (pdf) that their new location would be the Kansas City Region.
The heart of the problem isn’t the choice of city. As Mike Lavender of UCS’s food and environment program said on Twitter, it is “Anti-farmer, anti-science, and anti-research no matter the selected location.” He also noted its widespread opposition, including by over 70 bipartisan agriculture leaders, over 100 organizations, and over 1,000 scientists.
Thursday’s quiet protest elicited expressions of solidarity with the workers from UCS and Farm Aid.
The booting of the agencies out of D.C.—which the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy previously called “an insult to world class researchers”—also sparked renewed statements of outrage.
“This is an unacceptable attack on agricultural research and science that is likely to push experienced researchers out of public service,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) on Twitter. “This not only hurts these workers and their families, but could have devastating impacts on America’s farmers as well.”
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