Ag Secretary Perdue Announces Agency Moves to Kansas City
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has announced that the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Economic Research Service (ERS) divisions will be relocated out of the Washington, D.C. metro area to the Kansas City region.
A cost-benefit analysis of the relocation was also released that cites an estimated annual savings around $20 million.
However, the report has come under scrutiny for failing to account for loss of institutional knowledge and expertise, reflected by the employees who choose not to relocate to Kansas City and leave their positions. The Agricultural and Applied Economics Association estimates that 50-70% of employees are considering to opt out of relocation. The report also compares only the current, expensive Washington, D.C. leases as opposed to more affordable leases in the metro area. USDA has not yet secured a specific site or building for a permanent, new headquarters.
Perdue commented, “We did not undertake these relocations lightly, and we are doing it to enhance long-term sustainability and success of these agencies. The considerable taxpayer savings will allow us to be more efficient and improve our ability to retain more employees in the long run. We will be placing important USDA resources closer to many stakeholders, most of whom live and work far from Washington, D.C. In addition, we are increasing the probability of attracting highly-qualified staff with training and interests in agriculture, many of whom come from land-grant universities. We look forward to this new chapter as we seek to fulfill our motto at USDA, which is to ‘do right and feed everyone.’”
Out of nearly 650 positions at NIFA and ERS, 547 (nearly 85%) will be impacted and forced to relocate. Less than 100 positions will remain in the D.C. Metro. Employees have 30 days from the announcement to make their decision. The relocation is slated to occur in three separate waves, with the first group of employees to be onsite in Kansas City by August 1. USDA intends to complete the move by September 30.
Both ERS and NIFA employees voted overwhelmingly to unionize, in an effort to better bargain for relocation timeframes and options. The local union representing ERS employees demanded that the USDA immediately begin the collective bargaining process, including a freeze on all individual relocation decisions until bargaining is complete.
Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee passed its FY 2020 ag appropriations bill, which includes amendments to prevent USDA’s proposal to relocate NIFA and ERS (Economic Research Service) out of the D.C. metro area. Several Republicans and one Democrat (from Missouri) filed an amendment to strip this provision from the bill. It will proceed to the House floor for a vote in the coming weeks.