USDA selects Kansas City Region for ERS/NIFA relocation
On June 13, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that the decision had been made to relocate the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to the Kansas City Region.
The plan to relocate these offices was first discussed in August 2018 and has proven controversial. The economic benefits of the plan were questioned by Congress in March, and ERS and NIFA employees recently voted to unionize in hopes of having more influence over the decision.
The USDA has argued that the move will save taxpayer money by bringing staff out of the expensive D.C. area, where they say the high cost of living makes it hard to attract and retain talented employees. Perdue has also said that a move will benefit ERS and NIFA by bringing the agencies closer to producers and other stakeholders in rural areas.
Meanwhile, many have protested the move, which they say will be expensive and will disrupt ongoing research. Some say the move is also unnecessary because the agencies already work closely with rural stakeholders. The move will also likely be tough for many agency employees who have spouses working at other D.C.-based agencies. Following the recent Kansas City announcement, many ERS and NIDA employees stood and turned their backs to Perdue at an all-hands meeting.
Perdue said the USDA choose the Kansas City Region for several reasons:
- The region is already home to many USDA and federal government employees, including the employees of the Kansas City ‘Ag Bank’ Federal Reserve, and there are agriculture experts at several land-grant and research universities within driving distance. Perdue said this nearby workforce will help ERS and NIFA choose from a talented labor force going forward.
- A USDA Cost-Benefit Analysis and conservative estimates show a savings of almost $300 million over 15 years on employment costs and rent. Perdue said these savings will allow for more funding toward research needs, even if federal budgets tighten.
- State and local governments offered generous relocation incentives packages totaling more than $26 million.
“We did not undertake these relocations lightly, and we are doing it to enhance long-term sustainability and success of these agencies,” said Perdue in a press release.
Feedstuffs report that no ERS or NIFA employees will be involuntarily separated as a result of the move. Every employee who wants to continue working will have an opportunity to do so, although most will be required to move if they choose to stay. Employees will be offered relocation assistance and will receive the same base pay as before, plus the locality pays for the new location, according to the USDA. Perdue said employees choosing to remain in D.C. will likely have other options in the federal service.
The USDA has not yet announced whether the agencies will be based on the Kansas or Missouri side of the Kansas City Region. Perdue expects to release a proposal by July 1.