Des Moines Register. August 22, 2019
Trump administration pulls up stakes on federal scientists; jeopardizes key agricultural research
From stoking unsubstantiated fears about vaccines to suggesting global warming is a Chinese hoax, President Trump has shown he isn’t a man of science. Or a man who respects science.
Now his administration has orchestrated a way to get rid of vital government workers who research everything from food security to climate change: Move their offices 1,000 miles from Washington, D.C., to Kansas City.
Though one may not be able to conclusively know this is a tactic to purge scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture under Secretary Sonny Perdue, it certainly is the result.
In June, Perdue announced plans to relocate hundreds of workers at the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) from the nation’s capital to the Midwest. The ERS examines issues including the rural economy, international trade and food assistance for poor Americans. NIFA provides grants for research.
The secretary argued the goal of the move was to save money and bring researchers closer to stakeholders. Except many are understandably unable or unwilling to move their lives and families across the country.
In July, the USDA reported fewer than 40% of those affected accepted their transfer assignments. That means the loss of hundreds of workers, along with years of their knowledge and experience.
And that seems to be exactly what the Trump administration wanted, if White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney can be taken at his word.
Mulvaney recently told a group of Republicans the plan to relocate hundreds of jobs “is a wonderful way to streamline government,” as it is “nearly impossible” to fire federal workers and many would not move to Kansas City.
The Union of Concerned Scientists rightly characterized the move as a “blatant attack on science” that is part of a systematic effort by this administration to hinder the USDA’s ability to produce objective information. In addition to budget cuts to eliminate “research that’s inconvenient to its interest,” it is also proactively “driving off scientists who conduct that very research,” said an organization official.
The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents the workers, said evidence suggests the relocation “is an attempt to hollow out and dismantle USDA science that helps farmers and protects our food supply.”
That’s the last thing farmers need right now. They are already struggling, thanks in part to tariffs imposed by this administration. The move could set back research relied upon by food producers.
And why was Kansas City chosen to enjoy the economic benefits of a new federal research facility? Why not Des Moines? Why not Ames?
Former Iowa governor and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack recently told a Register editorial writer that care will need to be taken to ensure there is no perception of bias or favoritism given to universities in close proximity to the new location.
“NIFA awards hundreds of millions of dollars in research grants every year. If there appears to be a disproportionate amount going to one state or university where the new office is located, it may result in serious questions being raised as to why that is happening,” he said.
Vilsack also noted some of the most important information from the ERS is a report about the economic state of rural places and people. “It is incredibly important because it helps make the case for the need for a rural revitalization plan.” That is particularly relevant to Iowa.
In addition to the relocation being a bad idea, it may not even be legal. The USDA’s own inspector general issued a report this month saying the department may have broken the law by not obtaining congressional approval.
The 2018 omnibus spending bill approved by Congress and signed by Trump requires the USDA to notify appropriations committees before using funds to relocate an office or workers. The inspector general pointed to a section of the law that requires congressional approval before spending money for relocation. That approval was never secured.
Yet the Trump administration is proceeding with an unnecessary move that jeopardizes research related to agriculture, rural economic development and this country’s food supply. In other words, some of the most important work government does.
Fort Dodge Messenger. August 23, 2019
Legislative Page program offers unique opportunities
There’s a unique opportunity available for area teenagers who want to see firsthand how their state government works.
Each year, the Iowa Senate and the Iowa House of Representatives employ a number of young people to do all kinds of odd jobs that are necessary to keep the legislature functioning. These teens are called pages. Their daily duties include everything from answering the phone, delivering messages, making copies, and sometimes even bringing a cup of coffee to a lawmaker.
State Rep. Ann Meyer, R-Fort Dodge, described the role of pages this way: “The Legislative Page program is a great way for high school students to get their foot in the door and see their state government in action.”
“If a student has any interest in going into any government job, this would be a great learning opportunity,” she added. “It’s really seeing it come to life instead of sitting in the classroom.”
Pages start their workday in the state Capitol at 8 a.m. and work until 4:30 p.m.
In 2019, the pages will work from Jan. 13 until the legislative session ends in the spring.
Pages are paid and may be able to get high school credit for their work.
A number of Fort Dodge teens have served as pages over the years. The most recent local pages were Liam Conrad and Haley Ledford, who served in 2018.
To get information on how to apply for a page position, visit legis.iowa.gov/careers.
We believe serving as a page could be an interesting and exciting experience that could lay the groundwork for a future career.
We urge area teenagers to give serious consideration to serving as a page. We also suggest that parents and grandparents let the teenagers in their lives know about the page program.
Quad-City Times. August 25, 2019
Hopes for a new school year
Most students are back to school around the Quad-Cities, and thousands of families are settling into a new seasonal cycle.
New pencils. New teachers. New buses. New friends. New bedtimes.
For anyone other than kindergarten parents, though, there’s a comforting familiarity about this time of year. Parents breathe a bit of a sigh. Kids are excited - in a good way. The weather cools. We start to cheer again for our favorite high school teams.
Pumpkin spice season will be here before you know it. School boards will begin to worry a little bit more about budgets. Politicians in Des Moines and Springfield will squawk about policy. And as caucus time gets a little closer, Quad-City residents will hear from presidential candidates with claims to possess the acumen fix the national education system’s many woes.
So before this inevitable hand-wringing kicks into high gear, let’s take a moment of peace to think about what we want out of this next school year and how, perhaps, we might make things a tad better for our children.
Let’s start with transparency. To us, it seems the root of so many problems lies in misunderstandings. Teachers don’t always understand parents. The public doesn’t understand what the school board is doing. Communities are unsure what’s happening in their schools. Voters don’t understand what politicians are doing in the statehouses. So let this be said for all: Honesty is the best policy. Only when we can openly discuss the issues that face us can we all take part in finding solutions. And, please, let’s do it with civility.
That’s good advice for anyone, but especially to the new superintendents (several Quad-City metro districts have new ones this year), school board members and other public employees doing such important work in our schools. Please, lead by example.
To our elected leaders in state government, we continue to hope they can set politics aside to focus on that task at hand: governing in the interest of the people, not the parties. In Illinois, educators will have the benefit of an additional $25 million on top of the $350 million annual boost built into the state’s budget last year. In Iowa, the state is spending about $89 million in new money, mostly through a 2% percent increase in general funding, but also through small increases to address inequities in per-pupil spending and transportation costs. Both of the latter are important to Quad-City schools, especially Davenport, where the district’s last superintendent was reprimanded when he intentionally overspent state caps to balance the inequities in the district. To our elected leaders, we hope this year’s debates focus less on price tags and more on policy - what we’re really doing in our schools to make things better.
Speaking of Davenport schools, expect them to be the focus of much media attention this school year. It’s the area’s largest district, has a new superintendent and continues to be the focus of special state oversight for numerous failures. But like a lot of parents and teachers we’ve heard from, we have reason for hope and have seen the district take some major steps toward improvement, especially for its special education students. There’s still a long way to go, but we think the district is moving in the right direction.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t say a few words about safety. By now it should be no secret that guns are finding their way into our schools. In North Scott, a 12-year-old student pulled a gun on a teacher. In Dixon, Illinois, in 2018, a cop was heralded a hero when he gunned down a former student about to shoot up the school.
This is madness. Regardless of your views on the Second Amendment, we should all agree that firearms should be kept out of children’s hands and away from people seeking to cause mass death. A pattern is emerging: Shooters often make lists, talk about killing, visit extremist websites and amass arsenals. To everyone this year, please say something if you see something.
Finally, some words for the parents. Nurture your children. Get them to school. Teach them kindness and responsibility. Have some patience. Mostly, though, just love them. And be kind to the teachers; they have a knack for helping you figure out all the rest.
Good luck this year.
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