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Secretary Sonny Perdue at podium USDA photo by Tom Witham

USDA to move NIFA, ERS to Kansas City

Updated: ERS won't be realigned under the Office of the Chief Economist

USDA is relocating the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture to the Kansas City Region.

“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,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “The Kansas City Region has proven itself to be hub for all things agriculture and is a booming city in America’s heartland. There is already a significant presence of USDA and federal government employees in the region, including the Kansas City ‘Ag Bank’ Federal Reserve. This agriculture talent pool, in addition to multiple land-grant and research universities within driving distance, provides access to a stable labor force for the future.”

Kansas City was selected from a field of 136 from 35 states. On May 3, 2019, Perdue narrowed the list to three, including the Kansas City region, various sites in Indiana and North Carolina’s Research Triangle.

“Kansas City is the heart of our farm economy and is deservedly the right choice for USDA,” said Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst. “Secretary Sonny Perdue has often said customer service is his number one goal at USDA, and there is no better way to show his commitment than having our public servants living where their customers are. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture and Economic Research Service will find Kansas City a vibrant, modern community that is excited to welcome them to the region.”

The Kansas City Area Development Council said the USDA team is evaluating multiple Class-A office properties in Kansas and Missouri for its 120,000-square-foot space, which will house both agencies and 568 employees, and expects to be operational this fall.

“We welcome the ERS and NIFA teams and look forward to introducing them to KC’s incredible culture, robust scientific community and unprecedented access to the research, farm, agribusiness and financial customers they serve,” said Tim Cowden, president and CEO, Kansas City Area Development Council, in a media statement.

“Although moving these two agencies to anywhere in the Midwest would have been beneficial for America’s heartland, we are honored and excited they will now call the Kansas City area home,” said Missouri Director of Agriculture Chris Chinn. “We are excited to welcome Secretary Perdue’s team with open arms. This is a move that will mutually benefit the agriculture industry and the agencies – creating a stronger future for American agriculture.”

Perdue announced the relocation in August 2018. It has been controversial from the start, with Democratic lawmakers trying to find a way to stop the move and several long-time employees leaving the agency. Other employees say the move is a punishment for conducting research that isn’t favorable to administration objectives.

Out of NIFA’s 315 positions, 294 will relocate while 21 will stay in the Washington D.C. region. Of the 329 ERS positions, 253 will relocate while 76 will stay in the Washington, D.C. area.

No ERS or NIFA employees will be involuntarily separated as a result of the move, Perdue says. 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.

Perdue says the move will save $300 million on employment costs and rent over a 15-year period, allowing more funding for research. Additionally, state and local governments offered 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,” Perdue said. “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.”

Secretary Perdue will be holding an all hands meeting with ERS and NIFA employees today to discuss the decision, the process, and next steps.

In addition, USDA announced in August the realignment of ERS under the Office of the Chief Economist. USDA will not move forward with the realignment plans at this time. The agency of ERS will remain under the Research, Education, and Economics mission area.

Praise for the move

Not unexpectantly, senators from Missouri and Kansas praised the selection.

“Kansas City is an obvious choice, as many other USDA agencies in the area partner closely with stakeholders,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas. “The vital research that will occur at the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility and already occurs throughout the KC Animal Health Corridor makes Kansas City a natural fit. I am pleased that USDA recognizes the rich resources the heartland provides.”

“Today’s announcement is great news for the Kansas City region and our state,” said Sen. Blunt. “These agencies will bring hundreds of good-paying jobs to the area and enhance Missouri’s role as a national leader in ag research,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri. “These research agencies do great work, and will be at the cutting edge of agriculture and well located for assistance and examples as they do their job.”

“It is always positive when our government can operate outside of Washington and closer to the people it serves, and I am certain that the decision to relocate NIFA and ERS to Kansas City is a good one,” said Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas.

“As the new home of the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Missouri and Kansas will continue to lead in the research and development of American agricultural policy for the 21st century,” said Sen. Josh Hawley. “We are grateful for the job opportunities and renewed partnership this move creates for our state.”

Disappointment with the move

“USDA has rushed this process, failed to give sufficient time for input and feedback, and disregarded the very public opposition of those who rely on the products that ERS and NIFA produce,” said House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations Chair Marcia L. Fudge. “The good-governance failures represented by this process should give everyone pause. I am much more concerned about the hundreds of ERS and NIFA employees who now have as little as 30 days to decide whether they want to uproot their families based on the whim of the secretary.”

“Today’s announcement is a solution in search of a problem,” said Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research Chair Stacey Plaskett. “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. Doubly concerning is the fact that stakeholders have not been given the opportunity for input throughout this process. Staff losses stemming from this move will hinder USDA’s ability to supply our farmers and ranchers with objective scientific information and economic data.”

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Click on the download button to see a copy of the letter that Perdue sent to USDA employees.

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