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Statisticians protest proposed research agency move

WASHINGTON — U.S. agriculture would be hurt if the U.S. Department of Agriculture follows through on its plan to move the Economic Research Service, or ERS, out of Washington, D.C., the American Statistical Association says.

The relocation, announced in early August, "will drive a brain drain from a vital research component in the nation's $1 trillion food, agriculture and rural economy," the statistical group said.

"On the face of it, the USDA move looks like common sense," American Statistical Association President Lisa LaVange said in a written statement. "The cost of living in Washington is high, and there are savings to be made by moving these agencies to places where the cost of living is lower. It's also good to spread federal government agencies across the U.S. and not have them all based in the capital."

But many ERS employees now in Washington will be reluctant or unwilling to move from the nation's capital, she said.

"It's taken years to build this agency into a world-class center of research filled with world-class experts," LaVange said. "They can and will take jobs that allow them to stay in their homes and keep their kids in the same schools; they most likely will resign or take early retirement rather than move."

"In a stroke, an agency that took a century to build, an agency that contributes absolutely vital knowledge about farming, agriculture and rural America will be set back decades," LaVange said.

The ERS employs 330 people who provide economic research on, and analysis of, emerging issues in agriculture, food, the environment and rural America, as well as global trade and food safety.

The American Statistical Association was among 42 organizations, most of them scientific associations or commodity groups, that wrote to Congress in August to urge that the ERS remain in the capital.

The American Statistical Association describes itself as "the world's largest community of statisticians and the oldest continuously operating professional science society in the United States. Its members serve in industry, government and academia in more than 90 countries."