January 31, 2019

USDA Begins Evaluating 136 Potential ERS and NIFA Relocation Sites

USDA Begins Evaluating 136 Potential ERS and NIFA Relocation Sites

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has begun evaluating 136 locations in 35 states as potential sites for the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

In a statement, the USDA said the hosts of these potential sites include educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, state development agencies, county development agencies, municipalities and for-profit entities. The full list of interested sites can be viewed here.

The USDA will be analyzing sites based on four criteria:

  • Quality of life (residential housing costs, access to health care, community safety, etc)
  • Costs (capital and operating, examples include commercial real estate costs, wage growth, etc)
  • Workforce (unemployment rates, labor force population, etc)
  • Logistics / information technology infrastructure (lodging availability, proximity to stakeholders, etc)

This development follows an announcement from the USDA in August that most ERS and NIFA employees would be relocated outside the National Capital Region by the end of 2019. According to the USDA, the relocations will help the department in several ways. One hope is that the plan will allow the USDA to recruit and retain staff by reducing costs of living and commute times that have been a problem for DC-based employees.

The USDA argues that the move is also aimed at bringing ERS and NIFA experts closer to stakeholders, who are said to be mostly based outside the DC area. The USDA also predicts that the move will save taxpayer dollars by reducing employment costs and rent.

“In our Administration, we have looked critically at the way we do business, with the ultimate goal of ensuring the best service possible for our customers, and for the taxpayers of the United States,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “In some cases, this has meant realigning some of our offices and functions, or even relocating them, in order to make more logical sense or provide more streamlined and efficient services.”

The USDA has also stated that “no ERS or NIFA employees will be involuntarily separated.”

"Every employee who wants to continue working will have an opportunity to do so, although that will mean moving to a new location for most. Employees will be offered relocation assistance and will receive the same base pay as before, and the locality pay for the new location,” added the USDA in a statement.

The USDA expects to select relocation sites by the end of January, guided by input from Ernst & Young, a Construction & Real Estate Advisory Services practice. The department has not yet stated whether ERS and NIFA will be co-located or housed at different sites.

Research support for animal agriculture continues to lag behind other types of federal research funding.  Although gains have been made in recent years, increased animal research funding remains a critical, national need.  The proposed moves, which would move analysts and program leaders away from appropriators, and other federal science programs seems unlikely to help increase support for animal agriculture research.