Employees at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture may soon have to start making moving plans, as the agency announced June 13 that it had selected a new site outside Washington, D.C., to house the agencies.

After narrowing down the pool of new sites to three locations just over a month prior, USDA Secretary Sonny Purdue announced where the agencies would be moving.

“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 Perdue in a news release.

“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.”

According to the news release, the move is expected to save the agency $20 million annually in employment and rent costs, with an additional $26 million in value from relocation incentives offered by the area’s state and local governments.

“Because of Kansas City’s 100-plus-year legacy of leadership in the agriculture and animal health industries, this decision feels like a homecoming for the USDA,” said Tim Cowden, president and CEO of the Kansas City Area Development Council, in a statement.

“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.”

But industry experts, researchers and even farmers themselves have criticized the move, as the operations of ERS and NIFA — which both inform legislative and appropriations policy — would be better suited to stay in Washington, D.C.

Some members of Congress have also turned to legislation to prevent the move.

“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,” said Purdue.

“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.’”

Purdue told employees in a June 13 letter that the move was not a reflection of poor performance on the part of agency and that he understood the disruption this kind of move could cause.

In total, 294 positions at NIFA and 253 positions at ERS will be required to make the move.

While the agency did not offer a planned date for moving the agencies to Kansas City, officials will be working with the General Services Administration to secure a lease space in the new location.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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