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Source: USDA news release

A bipartisan trio of former top USDA research officials joined forces during a webinar on Thursday to deliver a unified message for Congress: Stop USDA from moving the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture - at least for now, reports Pro Ag's Helena Bottemiller Evich.

The officials, whose tenures spanned the Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama administrations, said lawmakers should hold oversight hearings and halt the planned moves until a review can be conducted by an outside entity, such as the GAO. They want Congress to either put language in next year's spending bill or consider whether language is needed in the farm bill.

Level of support is questioned: "I'm deeply concerned," Gale Buchanan, who served as undersecretary for research, education, and economics during the George W. Bush administration, said during the webinar, which the American Statistical Association hosted. He added: "I've yet to find anyone who thinks this is a good idea who's been involved in the system." Buchanan was joined by a fellow former REE undersecretary, Catherine Woteki, and former ERS Administrator Susan Offutt.

USDA defends move: Deputy Agriculture Secretary Stephen Censky, who participated in the webinar during the latter part of the discussion, defended the administration's plans. He said both the planned relocation of the agencies and the repositioning of ERS from the department's research arm to the Office of the Chief Economist are "in no way" meant to "diminish or minimize their roles."

"We recognize how important these agencies are," Censky said.

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