WASHINGTON – The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) on June 13 announced it will move the Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to the Kansas City area.

The Missouri-Kansas bid beat out 135 proposals for the USDA relocation. Other finalists and alternatives included Indiana, North Carolina (Research Triangle region), St. Louis and Madison, Wisconsin.

The agency is looking at multiple Class A office properties in Kansas and Missouri for its 120,000-sq.-ft. space, which will house both agencies. The move is expected to create 568 new jobs for Kansas City and be operational in the region by fall 2019.

“The Kansas City Region has proven itself to be a hub for all things agriculture and is a booming city in America’s heartland,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said. “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.”

In August 2018, Perdue announced a plan to move the ERS under the Office of the Chief Economist along with the planned relocation. The USDA said that high cost of living and long commutes to Washington presented a challenge to recruitment and retention of qualified employees. They also stated the move would yield employment cost and rent savings while moving USDA resources closer to food and agricultural stakeholders.

Representatives from both Missouri and Kansas were pleased with the federal government’s decision to brings jobs to their region of the country.

“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. Kansas City is an obvious choice, as many other USDA agencies in the area partner closely with stakeholders,” said Senate Agriculture chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.). “The vital research that will occur at the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility (NBAF) 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.”

Roberts’ counterpart, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), applauded the decision as well.

“These agencies will bring hundreds of good-paying jobs to the area and enhance Missouri’s role as a national leader in ag research,” Blunt said. “Secretary Perdue made the right choice in selecting Kansas City, which is a great place to live and work. The challenges and opportunities have never been greater than they will be in the next 25 years. 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.” 

Some federal lawmakers disagreed with the Trump Administration’s decision including Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio), chair of the House agriculture nutrition subcommittee.

“This announced move points to a troubling history of non-transparent decision-making at USDA,” Fudge said. “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. 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.”

Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI) also voiced her disapproval after saying she talked to farmers, ranchers, and agriculture researchers who are opposed to the move.  

“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,” she said. “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.”

The employees of the research agencies also made their voices heard recently. Since May, both NIFA and ERS workers have voted overwhelmingly to unionize in response to the USDA’s decision to relocate to Kansas City. 

The American Statistical Association came out in strong disagreement with the USDA and Perdue’s choice to move this part of the agency out of Washington.

“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,” ASA Executive Director Ron Wasserstein said in a statement. “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. We understand the appeal of moving federal jobs from Washington to help the economies of other regions of the US. However, helping a local economy should not come at the expense of scientific research and evidence-based policymaking for food, agriculture, and rural economies more broadly.”

Last week, Federal lawmakers pressed for more data regarding the feasibility of moving the ERS and the NIFA agencies of the USDA outside the Washington, D.C., area.

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