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Government Relations & Washington Update

May 2022

GAO Publishes Study on ERS and NIFA Relocations
On April 21, 2022, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a study entitled: “Evidence-Based Policy Making: USDA's Decision to Relocate Research Agencies to Kansas City Was Not Fully Consistent with an Evidence-Based Approach.”  The study was requested in response the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) 2019 relocation of the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture—from DC to Kansas City. GAO was asked to assess the analysis USDA used to support its decision to relocate ERS and NIFA to the Kansas City region. This report reviewed how USDA made its relocation decision, the underlying analyses, and the use of evidence in its decision-making.

GAO reviewed the analysis that USDA used to decide where to relocate these agencies.  The report finds that that USDA overlooked key evidence, e.g., it didn't factor in potential costs related to the attrition of staff or the disruption of agencies' activities due to the relocation. GAO found that USDA's development and usage of evidence had significant limitations. In addition to methodological concerns, GAO reported that key characteristics of a high-quality analysis were absent, including transparency around key methodological decisions and sensitivity analysis to assess the reasonableness of critical assumptions.

USDA's stated objectives for relocation were to improve its ability to attract and retain highly-qualified staff; place its resources closer to stakeholders and consumers; and reduce costs to taxpayers. However, GAO found that the economic analysis did not fully align with those objectives. For example, USDA used cost of living to screen out locations and then eliminated sites that did not have sufficient space to co-locate NIFA and ERS. However, some of the sites eliminated ranked highly in terms of USDA's stakeholder proximity and staff recruitment and retention objectives. In addition, USDA omitted critical costs and economic effects from its analysis of taxpayer savings, such as costs related to potential attrition or disruption of activities for a period of time, which may have contributed to an unreliable estimate of savings from relocation.

USDA neither agreed nor disagreed with our findings but disagreed with the criteria GAO used to evaluate the agency's economic analysis. Because the relocation of ERS and NIFA is complete, the GAO study does not provide specific recommendations for USDA.  However, the evaluation of USDA’s process can be useful for agencies considering similar actions in the future.

White House Announces Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health
On May 4, 2022, President Biden announced that the White House will host a Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health in September 2022. The conference will be the first such event at the White House in over 50 years.  The goal of the conference is to accelerate progress and drive significant change to end hunger, improve nutrition and physical activity, reduce diet-related disease, and close the disparities around them.  The Biden Administration has set a goal of ending hunger and increasing healthy eating and physical activity in the U.S. by 2030 so that fewer Americans experience diet-related diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, and hypertension. The Conference will galvanize action by anti-hunger and nutrition advocates; food companies; the health care community; local, state, territorial and Tribal governments; people with lived experiences; and all Americans, and it will launch a national plan outlining how to achieve this goal.  The White House will be seeking input from stakeholders in preparation for the conference.  AAEA is engaging with the White House to identify opportunities for the association and its members to get involved in the process.