Economists fleeing the Department of Agriculture due to hostility under Trump: report

Economists fleeing the Department of Agriculture due to hostility under Trump: report
Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

In late April, six researchers left the U.S. Department of Agriculture on a single day, feeling that the Trump Administration had been punishing them for publishing reports that weren’t supportive of certain policies. And agricultural researchers for the Economic Research Service (ERS), according to Politico, have been clashing with Sonny Perdue (secretary of agriculture in the Trump Administration) over those reports.

The ERS has found that farmers are being harmed by the Trump Administration’s trade and tax policies, including President Donald Trump’s enthusiastic support of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. ERS reports have also found that farm income has continued to decline under Trump’s presidency—and an ERS employee, interviewed on condition of anonymity, told Politico, “The administration didn’t appreciate some of our findings. So, this is retaliation to harm the agency and send a message.”

Perdue’s office, according to Politico, issued an internal memo asking the ERS and other researchers to include disclaimers in their publications saying that their findings were “preliminary” and “should not be construed to represent any agency determination or policy.”

Another Trump-era policy affecting the ERS was Perdue’s decision to move it out of Washington, D.C. and closer to farming regions—a change Perdue said would save taxpayer dollars. But ERS researchers, according to Politico, have said that being based in the nation’s capital was beneficial from a research standpoint.

A senior ERS researcher, also interviewed anonymously, told Politico, “The message we’ve been getting is, ‘The cost-benefit analysis doesn’t matter. Being close to stakeholders doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters for you is the fact that the secretary wants you to move, thinks it’s in your best interest—and that’s what we’re doing.’”

Negative publicity in farming regions is the last thing that President Trump needs going into the 2020 election, as his base has been largely white and rural. Although Republicans lost control of the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterms and Democrats enjoyed a net gain of 40 seats in that branch of Congress, the GOP slightly increased its majority in the U.S. Senate thanks, in part, to strong rural turnout and victories for Republican Senate candidates in North Dakota, Missouri and Indiana.

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