Update on Proposal to Move USDA Agencies
Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, has announced the top three locations under consideration for a new home for the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS), and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). They include multiple cities in Indiana, the greater Kansas City metropolitan area, and Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. Two additional cities, St. Louis, MO and Madison, WI were named as finalists, in the event the top three candidates are not suitable.
These top locations offer existing buildings to meet ERS and NIFA space requirements, as well as being top contenders for quality of life, costs, workforce availability, and logistics. 136 expressions of interest were initially received, from over 35 states.
The move intends to cut costs, consolidate offices, and place ERS and NIFA closer to rural communities they serve. The proposal was unveiled in August 2018, and a decision is planned by the end of 2019, though an official move date has not provided. USDA has requested $26 million to cover the cost of the move. Nearly 600 USDA employees would be impacted. Of these, nearly 100 will remain in DC, while the rest would be asked to relocate.
Perdue was quoted as saying, “Relocation will help ensure USDA is the most effective, most efficient, and most customer-focused agency in the federal government, allowing us to be closer to our stakeholders and move our resources closer to our customers. Our commitment to the public and our employees is to continue to be transparent as we proceed with our analysis.”
Critics have expressed concerns that ERS would become politicized by this move, undermining its independence. Furthermore, such a move could set both agencies back several years, as many current employees would be unable or unwilling to relocate. House Democrats, USDA employees, members of academia, former USDA and government officials, and several industry groups are among those expressing opposition.
Members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, and Food and Drug Administration have reportedly expressed frustration with a lack of detail provided to Congress regarding its reasoning for the move. A cost-benefit analysis is planned for release soon. Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA) has spoken out against the move, stating that USDA has enough empty spaces in the Washington, DC area to accommodate ERS and NIFA employees, saying, “How in any way does it make budget sense to move ERS and NIFA outside of DC when there’s rent-free space here available?”