WASHINGTON — For years, economists at the Agriculture Department have churned out studies that forecast the effects of food trends, environmental changes and trade policy on rural America. But these days, career staff members at the Economic Research Service have been anxiously trying to predict their own futures.
Last year, after an economist with the division presented research that contradicted the Trump administration’s views about the president’s signature tax cuts, the Agriculture Department put into effect new rules about submitting work to peer-reviewed journals. Now, Sonny Perdue, the agriculture secretary, is planning to move the roughly 300-person research unit, along with another division, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, out of Washington and closer to America’s farmers.
Mr. Perdue, who tried to shrink the agencies’ funding early in President Trump’s term, is expected to detail plans to relocate both units to Missouri, Kansas, Indiana or North Carolina, or another location far from the capital. He believes that the move, which could be announced in the coming days, will save money and make research more relevant.
But some critics see the relocation plan as another attempt by the Trump administration to diminish the role of science in government policymaking. Economists at the research service, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss their views of the office’s internal dynamics, said they believed they were being shipped out of town as retribution for producing work that clashed with the administration’s agenda.