Trump administration to USDA researchers to move to Kansas City area

Trump administration to USDA researchers to move to Kansas City area

Sonny Perdue

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue argued in a statement that the Kansas City region will be able to attract the sector to attract “people trained and interested in agriculture” because the area is a “hub for everything”. agricultural. ” Alex Wroblewski / Getty Images

The Agriculture Secretary, Sonny Perdue, has chosen to relocate two USDA research agencies to the Kansas City area, the final stage in a process to repeat the department's research wing which made protests from a number of Democratic Parties.

Perdue said that on Thursday the new home of the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture were announced that the move would bring the research agencies closer to major farming regions, improve customer service and save taxpayers' dollars. – about $ 20 million per year 15 years.

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But many said ERS employees, who carry out research on areas such as climate change, nutrition and farm economy, and at NIFA, organize federal grants for agricultural research institutes, with POLITICO that they believe is the transition. rooted in politics.

A number of current and former staff at the agencies warned that relocation could disrupt operations and drive out experienced researchers. The proposal has already prioritized veteran economists from ERS, and a number of legal manufacturers and ERS allege relocation as an attempt to reduce the door of the agency and hamper research that is not in line with Trump's administrative priorities. .

The Democratic Party has questioned the resettlement plan and blamed USDA for not providing for detailed justification since the concept was first released in August 2018. The USDA-FDA House appropriations bill for fiscal 2020 would prohibit USDA move on with the relocation, but is unlikely to be a law before the move.

Perdue argued in a statement that the Kansas City region will be able to attract the section to attract “people trained and interested in agriculture” as the area is “a hub for all things agriculture” and there is a “significant presence”. “USDA already has federal government employees and also a Kansas City Federal Reserve.

“The Kansas City Region will enable ERS and NIFA to increase efficiencies and efficiency and bring important resources and manpower to all our customers,” he said.

“This pool of agricultural talent, as well as grant-aided universities and research within driving distance, provides access to a stable workforce for the future,” he said.

The department did not arrange a site in the Kansas City area. The General Services Administration will release a proposal early next month, allowing interested parties to submit offers, Perdue said on Thursday evening. In the meantime, employees will be relocated as early as mid-July and placed in temporary office space suitable for up to 200 workers.

USDA argued that since the proposal was first relocated that the high cost of living in the Washington, D.C. area, hinders recruitment and retention by the agencies.

The predicted savings of $ 20 million per year will allow more funding to be directed towards research initiatives to address “critical needs such as rural prosperity and agricultural competitiveness,” said Perdue, adding that the savings will increase. the capacity of agencies to maintain service and staffing even in the face of tightening budgets. ”

The deal in sweep was offered by state and local government governments by offering a package of $ 26 million in incentives, the secretary said. Perdue refused to reveal what Kansas City region offered to attract USDA.

"These are proprietary talks from a perspective perspective," he told reporters. "If the local community chooses to expose them, they can do so on their own initiative."

Total projected transfer savings – around $ 300 million over 15 years – are based on a cost-benefit analysis of relocation to the Kansas City area issued by the department on Thursday. Some Democrats asked the department to release months of such a study.

Announcing the pick, USDA supported the withdrawal of another aspect of its plan from lawmakers – moving ERS within the departmental organizational structure so that it could come under the Office of the Chief Economist. The agency will remain under the Research, Education and Economic mission area of ​​the department.

"While we believe that re-alignment, with feedback from stakeholders and members of Congress, has significant synergies and benefits, USDA will not proceed with the realignment plans," the release said.

Critics of that part of the plan, including some current and former ERS employees who interviewed POLITICO, argued that the agency's research realignment could be under political influence by placing it closer; Secretary's Office. The 2020 Fiscal spending bill for the USDA was seeking to prevent the realignment.

The Kansas City region has been selected from hosting over 130 locations that have expressed an interest in the agencies. Now the move is a quick time online.

Resettlement letters are expected to be received by Agency employees on Thursday. Employees expect to be given 30 days to decide on a move, according to trade union leaders.

The employees of both agencies have voted on unity against resettlement, and the American Government Employee Confederation has represented leaders, who have represented the workers, after a delay.

Representatives of the Union said that the employer had not been notified in advance – Perdue said on Wednesday that he would do it. They learned about site selection through media reports, according to trade union leaders.

During the post-notice town hall briefings, almost 20 employees quietly challenged Perdue by turning his back on him when he spoke to the team.

“Secretary Perdue continually talks about transparency and communication with employees but failed in both sides,” said Kevin Hunt, active vice president of the union ERS. “Today's announcement emphasizes its disregard for the rights and well-being of the people. employees. "

In a letter to employees who were shared with POLITICO, Perdue said that he knew "this time, especially for employees who had a direct impact on them, was challenging personally and professionally. I am grateful for your patience and your hard work. "

The secretary said that he had written the letter because he was asking employees to hear the news from him first. But the announcement of the letter to the staff was not made until 10:37 until Thursday – after the media had published reports and the decision was by a press statement by Mr Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.).

The four State senators from Missouri and Kansas – each Republican – issued a joint statement proposing Perdue from the Kansas City area to choose. One of them, the Senate Agriculture Chairman, Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Said, “Agricultural research is a critical function of USDA, and I am committed to ensuring that we continue to support and strengthen the research mission that our US producers it depends on it. "

However, some of the Democrats from other parts of the country were critical of the decision.

Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) and Del criticized. Stacey Plaskett (D-V.I.), Who led Agriculture House sub-committees with jurisdiction over USDA research agencies, announced Thursday's announcement that there was a lack of transparency in the whole process.

Representative Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), a member of the House Appropriation Committee who jointly sponsored a bill to stop the move, said she was "terrible" with a USDA decision "to implement a team to redeem Kansas to Kansas City keep their careers. "

She also noted that the USDA Inspector's general investigation "is not examining the viability of this relocation."

USDA paid $ 340,000 to the consultancy firm Ernst & Young to run the site selection process.

John Lauinger added to this report.

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