U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue Thursday announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will relocate the Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) 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 Secretary 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. 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.”
USDA conducted a Cost Benefit Analysis and conservative estimates show a savings of nearly $300 million nominally over a 15-year lease term on employment costs and rent or about $20 million per year, which will allow more funding for 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. On top of that, state and local governments offered generous relocation incentives packages totaling more than $26 million. Finally, this relocation will give USDA the opportunity to attract a diverse staff with training and interest in agriculture. You may click HERE to view USDA’s Cost Benefit Analysis.
“We did not undertake these relocations lightly, and we are doing it to enhance long-term sustainability and success of these agencies. 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. We look forward to this new chapter as we seek to fulfill our motto at USDA, which is to ‘do right and feed everyone,’” added Secretary Perdue.
Secretary Perdue sent this letter to all USDA employees this morning and 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. While we believe there is considerable synergies and benefits to a realignment, after hearing feedback from stakeholders and Members of Congress, USDA will not move forward with the realignment plans. The agency of ERS will remain under the Research, Education, and Economics mission area.
USDA announced in August it would undertake the relocations for three main reasons:
1.To improve USDA’s ability to attract and retain highly qualified staff with training and interests in agriculture, many of whom come from land-grant universities. USDA has experienced significant turnover in these positions, and it has been difficult to recruit employees to the Washington, D.C. area, particularly given the high cost of living and long commutes.
2. To place these important USDA resources closer to many of our stakeholders, most of whom live and work far from the Washington, D.C. area.
3. To benefit the American taxpayers. There will be significant savings on employment costs and rent, which will allow more employees to be retained in the long run, even in the face of tightening budgets.
As part of the rigorous site selection process, USDA narrowed the 136 Expressions of Interest received using a set of established criteria defined by USDA, NIFA, and ERS leadership. The criteria included:
- Quality of Life: Subcategory examples include Diversity Index, Residential Housing Costs, Access to Healthcare, and Home and Community Safety Ranking.
- Costs (Capital and Operating): Subcategory examples include Commercial Real Estate Costs, CPI Index, and Wage Costs.
- Workforce: Subcategory examples include Labor Force Growth Rate, Unemployment Rate, and the Labor Force Population.
- Logistics / IT Infrastructure: Subcategory examples include Lodging Availability, Proximity to Customers, and Airport Accessibility.
The top Expressions of Interest were reviewed in detail, and USDA selected a short list of locations offering existing buildings with sufficient space to meet ERS and NIFA requirements.
While 90% of USDA employees are located outside of the D.C. area, ERS and NIFA are the only USDA agencies that don’t have representation outside of the national Capital Region (NCR). Upon the relocation announcement, USDA proposed that sufficient staff levels would remain in the NCR to complete mission critical activities that require physical presence in or near Washington, D.C. at the recommendation of customers and stakeholders. In both the cases of ERS and NIFA, leadership reviewed the critical functions and staffing needs within and outside the NCR. Senior ERS and NIFA staff, with input from partner agencies and stakeholders, recommended to Secretary Perdue the critical functions to be retained within the NCR.
Out of NIFA’s 315 positions, 294 will relocate while 21 will stay in the NCR. Of the 329 ERS positions, 253 will relocate while 76 will stay in the Washington, D.C. area.
As a result of this move, 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.
USDA will be working with the General Services Administration to secure a permanent lease space through a competitive process in the Kansas City Region. USDA will continue to keep ERS and NIFA employees apprised as updates occur.