WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture will relocate its Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture to the Kansas City region from Washington, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said June 13. The moves will come after the USDA conducted a cost benefit analysis that estimated a savings of nearly $300 million over a 15-year lease term on employment costs and rent. The savings should allow more funding for research of needs like rural prosperity and agricultural competitiveness and for programs and employees to be retained in the face of tightening budgets, according to the USDA.

“We did not undertake these relocations lightly, and we are doing it to enhance long-term sustainability and success of these agencies,” Perdue said. “The considerable taxpayer savings will allow us to be more efficient and improve our ability to retain more employees in the long run.”

State and local governments offered relocation incentives packages totaling more than $26 million.

“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. “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 move will involve 294 of the 315 NIFA positions relocating to the Kansas City region and 253 of the 329 ERS positions relocating to the Kansas City region.

Senators Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran of Kansas and Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley of Missouri applauded the move in a press release.

“Agricultural research is a critical function of USDA, and I am committed to ensuring we continue to support and strengthen the research mission that our U.S. producers rely on,” Roberts said. “Kansas City is an obvious choice as many other USDA agencies in the area partner closely with stakeholders.”

Not everybody in the ERS or the NIFA approved of the relocations as both agencies recently voted to unionize. Employees of the ERS on May 9 voted 138-4 in favor to join the American Federation of Government Employees.

“By joining AFGE, employees at the Economic Research Service are using their collective voice to demand a seat at the table when decisions are made that affect their jobs,” said J. David Cox Sr., president of the AFGE, on May 9. “Under the Trump administration, the USDA is suppressing the publication of scientific research that ERS employees conduct and has proposed upending employees’ lives by relocating the agency outside the nation’s capital. ERS employees have done the right thing by organizing a strong union so that they will be more effective in defending the important work they do on the public’s behalf.”

The NIFA on June 11 voted 137-2 in favor to join the AFGE.

“The proposal to relocate both agencies outside the nation’s capital would upend employees’ lives and could actually impede their work,” Cox said June 11. “By organizing at the worksite, employees at NIFA and ERS are using their collective voice to demand a seat at the table when decisions are made that affect the important work they do on the public’s behalf.”