In the News
Topeka Capital-Journal: USDA moving headquarters of two research units, 600 jobs to Kansas City area
Jun 13 2019
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday transfer to the Kansas City area from Washington, D.C., of hundreds of federal research jobs concentrated on food nutrition, safety and conservation, as well as the farm economy and global trade.
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue determined new headquarters of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Economic Research Service, which employ about 300 people each, would be in the Missouri-Kansas metro area.
“The Kansas City Region has proven itself to be a 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. 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.”
An estimated 5,000 USDA employees and contractors work in the Kansas City area.
USDA’s analysis of a transfer to the Kansas City region indicated savings to the federal government of nearly $300 million over a 15-year term on employment costs and building leases. State and local governments offered USDA relocation incentives of more than $26 million, USDA said.
Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, said a decision by USDA about the precise location of the headquarters was expected to be made in July. During the bidding process, Kansas and Missouri submitted a joint proposal to the USDA.
“The decision today to move the USDA agencies to the Kansas City area is proof of the value of collaboration between our two states and our congressional delegation. When we all work together, we can accomplish a lot,” Kelly said. “While we’ll work hard to make sure the final location is on our side of the river, we know the new location on either side will meet the needs of the USDA and benefit Kansas and Missouri.”
The National Institute of Food and Agriculture is responsible for awarding more than $1 billion annually in competitive grants for research designed to improve sustainability and production of U.S. agriculture. Economic Research Services, the USDA’s in-house statistical office, is responsible for data relied upon to make policy decisions.
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican, was part of the bipartisan coalition of Kansas and Missouri politicians supportive of transitioning the research operations to the Midwest.
“After months of advocating to Secretary Perdue that NIFA and ERS ought to be relocated to the Kansas City area, I’m thrilled that USDA has selected Kansas City to house these critical research agencies,” Moran said. “It is always positive when our government can operate outside of Washington and closer to the people it serves, and I am certain that the decision to relocate NIFA and ERS to Kansas City is a good one.”
Moran said the animal health corridor from Manhattan to Columbia, Mo., contained the largest concentration of animal health companies in the world and the decision by USDA bolstered the Kansas City region’s status as a national leader in the agriculture industry. The corridor includes the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, or NBAF, under construction adjacent to the Kansas State University campus.
In August 2018, Perdue solicited applications from cities and states for an opportunity to serve as headquarters for the two USDA agencies.
The decision to move the USDA offices hasn’t been without controversy. USDA has been criticized for causing unnecessary upheaval at the agencies and potentially creating a regional bias at the two research divisions. The House agriculture appropriations bill includes language to block the move. Both USDA units voted to unionize and fight the relocation.
Mike Lavender, senior manager of government affairs in the food and environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the flawed decision by USDA was evidence of a strategy by the administration of President Donald Trump to systematically hollow out USDA’s ability to produce objective science.
“The White House proposed budget cuts to eliminate research that’s inconvenient to its interests and at the same time they’ve created this unnecessary relocation crisis, which is driving off scientists who conduct that very research,” Lavender said. “This is a blatant attack on science and will especially hurt farmers, ranchers and eaters at a particularly vulnerable time."
Tim Cowden, president of the Kansas City Area Development Council, said the organization was ready to partner with USDA during the relocation process and shared with employees of the research agencies Kansas City’s “incredible culture, robust scientific community and unprecedented access to the farm, agribusiness, research and financial customers they serve.”
The two other finalists for the USDA facilities were Indiana and North Carolina. The search for a new location of the research entities originally attracted 136 proposals from 35 states.
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