USDA research agencies will move to the Kansas City region despite opposition

USDA research agencies will move to the Kansas City region despite opposition

Agricultural Secretary Sonny Perdue. (Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post)

Two scientific agencies in the Department of Agriculture will be moving from Washington to more Kansas City region, USDA announced Thursday, despite the fact that the plan was strongly opposed.

It is expected that almost 550 jobs will be transferred to the Economic Research Service, a statistical agency, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which funds cutting-edge agricultural science. by the end of federal fiscal year, September 30. USDA estimated the savings at $ 300 million over 15 years from employment and rent.

“The Kansas City Region created itself as a hub for all agricultural things and is a big city in the heart of America,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in a statement.

The news release did not identify the location of the offices. But Tim Cowden, president and chief executive of Kansas City Area Development Council, said the agency is assessing office properties on both sides of the Kansas-Missouri border.

Perdue identified a plan to relocate both agencies in August, without specifying a site. He asked for the decision to save costs and said he would bring them closer to their “stakeholders” in farming regions. Initially, he recommended placing an ERS under the Office of the Chief Economist but this was not part of the final plan, according to a letter sent by the secretary on Thursday.

Scientists around the country rely on NIFA grants to study topics from climate change and top genetics to farmland drones. ERS produces statistical reports which influence decisions in corporate board rooms and state and federal capitals.

Republican senators who represent Missouri and Kansas welcome before Thursday's announcement. “We have some of the hardest farmers working in the country at home, so this is a fantastic decision by the USDA,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) In a statement.

NIFA and ERS workers will work with nearly 5,000 other USDA employees in Kansas City, said Cowden, who suggested the group's region to USDA last year.

“We are within 300 miles of 13 university grant land,” said Kimberly Young, president of the Kansas City Animal Health Corridor, a development advice initiative. At the heart of the animal health industry, Young said, with more than 300 such companies nearby.

But current employees of both agencies, Democratic lawmakers and a coalition coalition of former USDA leaders warned that the move, more than 900 miles from Washington, would destroy both agencies.

“This is not just a change of address,” said Jack Payne, Senior President of the University of Florida for agriculture. “It cuts NIFA out of co-operation with other federal funding agencies in D.C. they are their main partners. ”

NIFA agreed earlier this week, and ERS agreed in May against the decision. Union officials have pledged to fight the move. Perdue spoke to NIFA employees and ERS in Thursday evening auditorium, members of the bargaining unit they stood and turned their backs to the protest secretary.

“Today's announcement that the Secretary Perdue has the best interests of American employees or federal agriculture,” said Kevin Hunt, Vice-President of the Local Government Federation 3403, who represents ERS employees. .

In a call to Thursday evening reporters, Perdue acknowledged that some employees had expressed “dissatisfaction with” the transfer. “I understand that no one wants to move their cheese,” he said, referring to the 2000 book on business management. He suggested that USDA employees who wish to remain in the District would seek "alternatives here in the federal service."

Perdue also said that the Administration of General Services, the agency that manages federal real estate, will begin the process of acquiring office space around 1 July.

Jeffrey Neal, chief human resources officer in the Department of Country Security in the Obama administration, said that if the USDA started issuing notices to employees this month “the department could pull it out by the end of the fiscal year.” Tuar Neal quickly it could be expensive to move – the relocation of USDA is estimated to cost $ 50,000 per worker – and “dissatisfied”, losing many employees in the process.

Thuar Gale Buchanan, chief USDA scientist under President George W. Bush, and Catherine E. Woteki, principal scientist in the Obama administration, said the relocation of ERS would “return five to 10 years” due to loss of specialized employees , as they wrote in 2018 letter to Congress signed by dozens of agricultural leaders.

“There is no plan in place to manage this,” said Woteki with The Washington Post. The offices, which employ around 700 people when they have a full complement of staff, account for about two-thirds of what they had during the Obama administration.

There are balloon workloads as ERS employees have retired from the normal October rate, An Post reported. A number of vacant ERS leadership posts have been filled by active officers.

There is no chief scientist in USDA, who oversees ERS, NIFA and other USDA research offices. The first nominee of Trump, the radio host, Sam Clovis, withdrew from consideration of his links to the Russian impact inquiry on the 2016 election. Mr Christopher Van Hollen (D-Md.) Played Second nominee of Trump, former Dow Chemical executive, Scott Hutchins, as the senator opposes the relocation, spokesman Van Hollen said. In January, Perdue appointed Hutchins Deputy Secretary for research, education and economics, a position that does not require confirmation from the Seanad.

“Our overarching concern is what happens to the important scientific work of these two USDA agencies on behalf of the community, on behalf of farmers and rural communities and everyone who eats,” said Karen Perry Stillerman, an analyst who focuses on food and the environment by the Union of Disadvantaged Scientists, a non-profit group that encourages researchers.

Nowadays, NIFA pays expensive offices on the seaward side of Washington, and leases space ERS in nearby Plaza Plariots. In April, Perdue announced a plan to name it “OneNeighborhood,” which seeks to consolidate workers into two USDA owned buildings in the capital region. However, employees of ERS and NIFA for the transfer, against the April 19 memoranda received by The Post, were excluded from OneNeighborhood.

Peter Winch, organizer for the American Government Employee Confederation, said that both agencies held comprehensive meetings on 22 May to discuss purchase and severance payments. When employees receive resettlement letters, they will have 30 days to decide on a move. USDA will provide 30 or less purchases to each agency, which it said was told to the employees.

Using an internal ERS document called the “wait-to-go” list, analysts at the Union of Disadvantaged Scientists identified nearly 80 jobs that were to remain in Washington. Most relate to administrative staff, market analysts and those who collect data. Economists and other ERS researchers who draw conclusions from that data are likely to be reassigned to Kansas City, according to this analysis.

But USDA disputed that. “Of the 76 ERS posts staying in the National Capitol Region, more than half of these jobs carry out primary research functions,” a USDA spokesperson, Meghan Rodgers, said in an email.

Democratic lawmakers also agreed to try to block the move. “We hope that the Conference will recognize that this is a legitimate function,” said Perdue with reporters on Thursday.

A federal department must find a “very low bar” and provide reasons for reassignment, Neal said. “There is doubt about the ability of Congress, with the shared control of the House and Seanad, such as this to stop in its tracks.”

House appropriations have recently added funds to prevent movement in the 2020 appropriation bill. “It is alarming that the administration is proceeding with this relocation to circumvent the Conference,” said Steny H. Hoyer, Majority Leader of the House (in statement). Hoyer suggested “exploring all options to change this decision.”

The Seanad Democrats introduced a bill to retain the agencies in the national capital region, reflecting the introduction of Housing legislation earlier this year at the Chellie Pingree Representative (D-Maine). Van Hollen said on Thursday that he would provide this legislation as an amendment to the bill of defense budget recently released by the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I will continue to fight this tooth and nail,” he said in a statement.

Lawmakers also questioned whether the secretary has the authority to relocate these offices without obtaining permission from a conference, encouraging investigation by the USDA's general inspector's office.

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