The Department of Agriculture has narrowed down its options to three potential locations for a proposed relocation of both its Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the agency announced May 3.

The Research Triangle region of North Carolina, the Greater Kansas City region spanning both Kansas and Missouri, and multiple locations in Indiana all made it into the top three.

Should those areas prove inadequate, St. Louis, Mo., and Madison, Wis., will be considered as alternates, a news release on the selection said.

“This short list of locations took into consideration critical factors required to uphold the important missions of ERS and NIFA. We also considered factors important to our employees, such as quality of life,” USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said in the news release.

“Relocation will help ensure USDA is the most effective, most efficient and most customer-focused agency in the federal government, allowing us to be closer to our stakeholders and move our resources closer to our customers. Our commitment to the public and our employees is to continue to be transparent as we proceed with our analysis.”

According to the USDA news release, the factors that went into selecting the top three areas included quality of life, costs, workforce impacts, and logistics and IT infrastructure.

But just the concept of moving both NIFA and ERS out of the Washington, D.C., area has drawn sharp criticism from expert groups and members of Congress, who say that the initiative will cause employees that don’t want to move to instead leave the agency, while keeping researchers away from decision-making centers of the government.

“I am extremely disappointed that none of the sites designated as finalists for the relocation of the USDA’s Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture are within the National Capitol Region,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., in a statement.

“I strongly disagree with Secretary Perdue’s decision to relocate the facility outside of the Washington region. The relocation will disrupt the important work carried out by the ERS and NIFA and undermine morale, and hundreds of federal employees in the fifth district [of Maryland] and throughout the region will be impacted by the proposed relocation. I will continue to urge the Department of Agriculture to rethink the relocation decision.”

The proposed move, which would impact approximately 600 USDA employees, is currently the subject of an investigation by USDA’s internal watchdog, and some members of Congress have even called for appropriations committees to prohibit the use of funding to be used to carry out the move.