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POLITICO reports:

Ag Secc'y Perdue's relocation plan for the agency, which some of USDA's Economic Research Service members believe is retaliation for reports that are unflattering to Trump administration policies, has triggered a brain drain at ERS. A steady flow of veteran researchers has left ERS in recent months, including six economists with more than 50 years of experience who left on one day in late April.

The number of non-retirement departures from ERS so far in fiscal 2019 is on track to be more than twice as high as the previous three-year average, according to data collected by employees.

Some current and former ERS economists told POLITICO they view the relocation as a form of punishment for the agency's findings that don't always align with Republican arguments on issues from taxes and trade to farm subsidies, food stamps and the environment.

"Some of the topics we were doing research on, the administration didn't appreciate some of our findings, so this is retaliation to harm the agency and send a message," said one ERS employee who asked not to be named to avoid retribution.

Others said it's an end-run around Congress, which has rejected Trump's budget proposals to cut ERS funding, reduce staff levels and end "low priority research."

Perdue and other supporters have touted the ERS and NIFA relocation as a way to save taxpayer dollars, bring the agencies closer to major farming regions and attract talented researchers that might be put off by D.C.'s high cost of living.

The secretary has also pushed back on criticism that the move will jeopardize scientific integrity, claiming that bringing ERS under the control of USDA's chief economist will make interference "less likely." (His office declined to provide separate comment about an increase in turnover or claims of political interference in the agency's work.)

CLOSING IN ON A FINAL ERS, NIFA SITE: USDA has named the three locations that are finalists in its bid to move ERS and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture out of D.C. - the greater Kansas City area, multiple sites in Indiana or the North Carolina research triangle - setting off the last round of jockeying from the contenders. Perdue previously indicated they'll have a chance to sweeten their offers in the days ahead.

"We'll go back to those few finalists here and ask their last and best offer," the secretary told lawmakers last month. "If I can't bring a deal to you that makes sense, then I wouldn't expect you all to approve it."

USDA also listed two runners-up in case none of the three finalists work out. St. Louis, which many had expected would be a front-runner, and Madison, Wis., "remain under consideration as alternative locations."

Proponents of picking Kansas City, which straddles the Missouri-Kansas border, have a powerful ally: Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts.

"Moving the offices to Kansas City, in the middle of the country, close to stakeholders, should improve customer service and make efficient use of taxpayer dollars," the retiring Kansas Republican said in a statement.

Tim Cowden, president of the Kansas City Area Development Council, noted that the area is already home to more than 5,000 USDA employees and contractors and a dozen agency operations.

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