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Researchers in two agencies at the Department of Agriculture have one month to decide whether to keep their job and move from Washington, D.C., to the Kansas City region along with the offices of the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue announced Thursday that after a 10-month search he’s decided the Kansas City area will be the new home of the two agencies. Perdue’s announcement included a cost-benefits analysis that says the move will save the department nearly $300 million over 15 years compared to the cost of maintaining the facilities in Washington, D.C.
He implied that the savings would be reinvested in the agencies. “This will allow us to redirect more funding for our research of critical needs like rural prosperity and agricultural competitiveness, and for programs and employees to be retained in the long run, even in the face of tightening budgets,” he wrote in a letter to employees.
Perdue’s letter to employees and press release did not specify whether the new offices will be in Missouri or Kansas (the home state of Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts). He said the Kansas City region already had ag-related federal agencies and universities, which will create a talent pool for the federal agencies.
The announcement prompted praise from Republican lawmakers (including Roberts) and criticism from Democrats, research and advocacy organizations, and the federal employees’ union that now represents workers in both ERS and NIFA.
Newly unionized employees of the agencies literally turned their back on the relocation decision. During Perdue’s announcement to staff Thursday, some employees stood and turned around.
The relocation timeline calls for moving 100 employees by August 1, an additional 200 by September 1, and the remaining 247 by September 30. About 100 of the agencies’ 644 employees will remain in Washington, D.C., according to the cost-benefit analysis document.
Here are excepts of statements in response to the relocation of the research organizations.
“Following a rigorous site selection process, the Kansas City Region provides a win win – maximizing our mission function by putting taxpayer savings into programmatic outputs and providing affordability, easy commutes, and extraordinary living for our employees. … The Kansas City Region will allow ERS and NIFA to increase efficiencies and effectiveness and bring important resources and manpower closer to all of our customers.”
Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture
“Secretary Perdue is well on his way to dismantling a federal statistical agency that is one of the best agricultural economics research institutions in the world, having yet to provide a single justifiable reason for doing so. … National policy is made in Washington, D.C. It is common sense that these ERS and NIFA, so vital to informing food and agriculture policy, should be located where national policy is made.”
Ron Wasserstein, Executive Director, American Statistical Association
“The fact that USDA ERS and NIFA staff both overwhelmingly voted to form a union demonstrates that they felt powerless to change the Trump administration’s politically-motivated decision…Many USDA staff believe their relocation is an effort to silence their research into topics that do not align with the Trump administration’s political agenda, including the study of climate change and benefits of low-income food assistance.”
U. S. Representative Chellie Pingree (D-Maine)
“Today’s decision is a testament to the wonderful attributes of the Heartland and reflects the hard work of our local Congressional representatives and members of the Kansas City community who did an excellent job highlighting the benefits of relocating these jobs to our area.”
U.S. Representative Vicky Hartzler (R-Missouri)
“The Trump administration’s reorganization and relocation of ERS and NIFA is a back-door tactic to achieve its desired, massive cuts to staff and budget that it failed to produce through the Congressional budget process.”
Dr. Steve Suppan, Senior Policy Analyst, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
“The fact that USDA has totally ignored good governance guidelines and congressional directives in their efforts to reorganize and relocate ERS and NIFA sets a dangerous precedent for the future. No Secretary has previously or should now have the authority to unilaterally uproot federal agencies and undermine core functions of government.”
Juli Obudzinski, Policy Director, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
“The White House proposed budget cuts to eliminate research that’s inconvenient to its interests and at the same time they’ve created this unnecessary relocation crisis, which is driving off scientists who conduct that very research. This is a blatant attack on science and will especially hurt farmers, ranchers and eaters at a particularly vulnerable time. The House Agriculture Appropriations bill includes language to stop the move and we encourage the Senate to follow suit.”
Mike Lavender, Senior Manager of Government Affairs, Union of Concerned Scientists
“Employees at ERS and NIFA spoke loudly and clearly by coming together to organize a union and demanding a seat at the table when decisions are made that affect their work – including transferring their jobs outside Washington. The USDA has provided no rational justification … for this move. …[The relocation proposal] is little more than a backdoor way to slash the workforce and silence the parts of the agencies’ research that the administration views as inconvenient,” Cox said.
David Cox Sr., President, American Federation of Government Employees (the Union that now represents ERS and NIFA workers)
“Today’s announcement is a solution in search of a problem. I have heard directly from farmers, ranchers, and agriculture researchers who are opposed to this relocation effort. These stakeholders never asked for these agencies to move, and USDA has yet to make a compelling case for how this action would benefit agriculture research.”
U. S. Representative Stacy Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands), Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research Chair, House Agriculture Committee
“I am excited to hear USDA selected Kansas City as the new location for the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Agricultural research is a critical function of USDA, and I am committed to ensuring we continue to support and strengthen the research mission that our US producers rely on.”
U. S. Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kansas)