Opening Statements

Opening Statement: Ranking Member Neal Dunn Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research Public Hearing: “Examining the Impacts of Relocating USDA Research Agencies on Agriculture Research”

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Washington, June 5, 2019 | comments

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

Thank you, Chairwoman Plaskett.

This subcommittee has jurisdiction over biotechnology, pesticide regulation, and plant pest and disease programs – all policy areas that will have a profound impact on the future of American agriculture. While I’m excited the subcommittee is holding its first hearing, it absolutely baffles me that our first topic is USDA office relocation. I do not understand the obsession that some have with the secretary’s decision, and some of the claims that I hear opponents making are laughable.

In February, Secretary Perdue sat at that table and told this committee that one of his top reasons for the relocation is talent. According to U.S. News and World Report, four of the top five richest counties in the U.S. are located in Washington, D.C. suburbs. Let’s face it – it is expensive to live and raise a family in this area, and USDA cites this fact as one of the biggest reasons why it is difficult to attract top talent and why the department struggles to fill positions.

In response to the relocation, Democrats have introduced H.R. 1221, the Agriculture Research Integrity Act of 2019. While billed as a response to the administration’s proposed relocation, this legislation would actually require the Secretary to relocate thousands of personnel to the Washington, D.C. area. The Agricultural Research Service has about 4,500 researchers and other staff working in facilities throughout the country, outside of Washington, D.C. If this bill were to become law, several ARS research stations throughout the country would close. That bill alone makes it abundantly clear that the majority’s only focus is on obstructing the work of the administration…except, in this case, their obstruction would actually devastate the ARS infrastructure that we’ve worked for decades to build throughout the United States.

I am proud to have joined a letter led by Ranking Member Mike Conaway and Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler and signed by every Republican Member on the House Agriculture Committee in support of the secretary’s decision. Additionally, there are several other letters signed by both Democratic and Republican Members of Congress in support of the relocation. Contrary to the tone that we will hear today, Secretary Perdue has broad support to move forward with this decision.

I recognize that Congress must exercise its oversight authority and I am supportive of an honest and thoughtful conversation about the direction of USDA agricultural research programs. However, that is not the purpose of this hearing. In this Congress, we have consistently seen that if the President and his team propose something, the majority automatically opposes it. The topic seldom seems to matter. Instead of tackling real issues that impact the true stakeholders of USDA, it is unfortunate that some of our Democrat colleagues continue to play politics. The Secretary has laid out a measured and deliberate plan for the relocation and has taken steps to help affected employees. I am confident in his execution.

This is a fight that exists only in the Washington, D.C. bubble and in ivory towers across the country. When I talk to folks back home, most agree that the farther you are from Washington, D.C., the better. I look forward to moving on to the real issues facing American agriculture.

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