July 28, 2019

NIFA and ERS Headquarters Relocation Site

Fewer than half of NIFA and ERS employees sign up for Kansas City Relocation

In August 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that their National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and Economic Research Service (ERS) headquarters would move out of the D.C. metro area to save taxpayer money, retain talented employees, and bring USDA researchers closer to stakeholders in agricultural areas.

Following that announcement, the Kansas City Region was chosen as the relocation site—and the plan drew criticism from both Congress and USDA employees. Ultimately, employees with NIFA and ERS voted to unionize in hopes of having more negotiating power in the relocation.

Staff is scheduled to report for duty at the new headquarters on Sept. 30. Now the numbers are coming in for who is making the move.

The USDA reports that among the NIFA employees slated to relocate, there have been 73 acceptances and 151 declinations/non-responses. Among the ERS employees asked to relocate, there have been 72 acceptances and 99 declinations/non-responses.

These numbers could still shift. Feedstuffs report that around 29 percent of the NIFA employees who declined to relocate say they would consider it if an agreement could be made through their union for “a reasonable amount of time for employees to make arrangements for their families and if USDA were to agree to housing.”

The relocation comes on the tails of the Trump Administration’s proposal to cut 50 percent of the USDA’s economic research funding. Some are concerned that the move could further damage research efforts. Sonny Ramaswamy, the NIFA director from 2012 to 2018, told the Washington Post that he was aware of $50 million in NIFA grants. These grants were slated to be distributed over the next three months, for research areas identified as priorities in the 2018 farm bill. According to the Washington Post, a “senior NIFA scientist familiar with the grants” has confirmed that the grants are on hold.

Meanwhile, the USDA and representatives from the Kansas City Region say they are not alarmed by the declinations to relocate. On July 18, Scott Hutchins, deputy undersecretary for research, education, and economics at USDA, told the Senate Agriculture Committee that the USDA expected to see such attrition numbers, based on Hutchins’ experience with other relocations he’s been a part of.

Tim Cowden, president, and CEO of the Kansas City Area Development Council told The Kansas City Star that his organization has been working with USDA employees and is prepared to help if more employees decide to relocate. Cowden said an acceptance rate below 40 percent is expected in a typical headquarters relocation.

“We are committed to working with all USDA employees interested in relocating to KC. In fact, we have a team dedicated to them,” Cowden told the Star. “We expect there will be others who may elect to relocate to KC and our community is ready to welcome them.”