Despite protests, USDA plans to move research agencies out of D.C.

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USDA NIFA ERS building Washington
The Jamie L. Whitten, Federal Building, U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. USDA photo by Ken Hammond.

WASHINGTON — Despite broad opposition, two of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research agencies are moving from Washington, D.C., to the Kansas City area, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced June 13.

According to a USDA release, moving the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture will save money, put USDA resources closer to stakeholders and attract better workers from nearby land-grant and research universities. Critics, from a broad spectrum of backgrounds, say the decision is rushed and could put the research at risk for reduced funding.

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

The Kansas City area was selected from among 136 bids from 35 states, after Perdue’s August 2018 announcement of the plans to relocate the two agencies.

The USDA said the move is expected to save nearly $300 million over 15 years, leaving more money for research. Nearly 550 jobs of the 644 jobs between the two agencies will relocate.

About NIFA and ERS

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture provides grant funding for agricultural research, education and extension programs.

The Economic Research Service looks into a range of issues, including the including the rural economy, international trade, food safety and programs that provide food assistance to low-income Americans. It produces market outlook reports for major crops and livestock products, forecasts of the Consumer Price Index for food and a number of other reports.

Reaction to the relocation news

Members of the Kansas and Missouri congressional delegations and the two states’ governors praised the USDA’s move, saying the research agencies are a good fit for their region. U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Missouri Democrat, said the jobs moving to the area will pay between $80,000 and $100,000 a year.

The plan drew strong criticism from two Democratic chairwomen of U.S. House of Representatives agriculture subcommittees, Marcia Fudge of Ohio and Stacey Plaskett of the Virgin Islands. They accused the USDA of rushing its decision and ignoring farmers, ranchers and researchers who opposed to it.

Other critics said the move will impact the agencies’ ability to produce and fund quality research because of the loss of highly-trained staff, as well as taking the agencies away from important collaborators and policy makers in Washington.

The National Farmers Union and National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition urged Congress to suspend the move.

“Moving NIFA and ERS farther away from our nation’s capital, as the USDA intends to do, could negatively impact the ability of these agencies to produce and fund high-quality research and communicate with legislators, which could, in turn, make it that much more difficult to be a farmer,” National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said in a release.

Former USDA chief scientists Gale Buchanan and Catherine Woteki wrote in a letter to the U.S. Congress, sent in late 2018, that moving the National Institute of Food and Agriculture would further undermine USDA research funding.

“With NIFA being relocated outside of Washington, we worry it will become less relevant and therefore more susceptible to further degradation of its budget,” the scientists said in the letter.

That letter voiced a number of concerns about the planned relocation and was signed by dozens of agricultural leaders, including Cathann Kress, Ohio State University’s dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental sciences.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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1 COMMENT

  1. If the staffers are interested perhaps they could move to Kansas. I feel moving the research from DC is a smart move financially in real estate costs alone. Getting further from politics is a good move as well.

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