The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday that it will relocate two scientific agencies, the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture, from Washington, D.C., to the Kansas City region, despite objections to the plan from some employees of the agencies as well as Democratic lawmakers and former USDA leaders.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has framed the move as a cost-saving measure that will bring the agencies closer to their “stakeholders” in farming regions and to a strong agricultural labor pool. The department says it will save some $300 million over 15 years on employment and rent.
But critics charge that the relocation is politically motivated, and have warned that it will hurt the agencies and threaten their scientific work. “This is not just a change of address,” Jack Payne, University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture, told The Washington Post. “It cuts NIFA off from the collaboration with other federal funding agencies in D.C. that are its major partners.” Former USDA chief scientists under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have said the relocation would set ERS back “five to 10 years.”
Employees at the agencies unionized ahead of the announcement, and union officials as well as some Democrats have pledged to fight the move.