Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue says the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will move the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to the Kansas City Region. Perdue says the site selection process was rigorous and the Kansas City Region provides a win-win. “It maximizes our mission function by putting taxpayer savings into programs and providing affordability, easy commutes, and extraordinary living for our employees,” Perdue says. “The Kansas City Region has proven itself to be a hub for all things agriculture and is a booming city in America’s Heartland.
USDA conducted a cost-benefit analysis and conservative estimates show a savings of nearly $300 million nominally on things like employment costs and rent over the course of a 15-year lease term. That will mean savings of about $20 million per year, which will mean more funding will be available for researching critical needs like rural prosperity and agricultural competitiveness.
The move will also help USDA retain programs and employees for the long term. Perdue says, “We didn’t undertake these actions lightly. We’re doing this to enhance the long-term sustainability and success of these agencies. The considerable taxpayer savings will allow us to be more efficient and place a lot of USDA resources closer to many important stakeholders.”
Missouri and Kansas celebrated after a successful united effort to bring two Department of Agriculture agencies to the Kansas City region. Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst responded to the USDA announcement and says that “Kansas City is the heart of our farm economy and is deservedly the right choice for USDA.”
Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas says the research that will occur at the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in nearby Manhattan, Kansas, and research that “already occurs throughout the K.C. Animal Health Corridor makes Kansas City a natural fit.”
However, the process to reach Kansas City has been mired by controversy and a lack of transparency, according to the National Farmers Union. NFU President Roger Johnson says the move could “negatively impact the ability of these agencies to produce and fund high-quality research and communicate with legislators. Employees of both agencies voted to unionize to negotiate in opposition to the move. During Secretary Perdue’s announcement, employees of both agencies stood in front of the stage in protest.
In the House of Representatives, this deal is far from done. House Ag Biotech Committee Chair Stacy Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands) claims the Trump Administration is forcing ERS and NIFA employees into difficult decisions, in hopes they will be able to cut staffing.
Plaskett maintains this will make it more difficult for ERS and NIFA to collaborate with USDA offices remaining in Washington. However, Biotech Ranking Member Neal Dunn (R-FL 2nd) says Committee Democrats are turning this into a huge political issue.
Democrats have introduced the Agricultural Research Integrity Act, aimed at trying to block this move. Dunn charges if this bill were to become law, it would force agencies which exist outside of Washington, D.C. to close.
The USDA is holding firm to its stance that the move is simply to cut costs of operating in the Washington, D.C. area and to improve customer service to the farmers and producers.