Relocation of the Economic Research Service and National Institute for Food and Agriculture still faces potential roadblocks from Congress.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said last week that his department has signed a lease for the new permanent home of two scientific agencies in Kansas City, Missouri, marking the latest step in the controversial and delayed decision to move nearly 600 positions out of the Washington metropolitan area.
Since late September, some employees at the Economic Research Service and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture have been working at the Kansas City Beacon Center, a complex that already housed other federal agencies.
But dozens of employees are not scheduled to move until the end of this year or March 2020, either because management decided that a move in the fall would imperil the timely release of reports or because of a union agreement allowing them to work remotely at least until the end of December.
Perdue did not specify when ERS and NIFA will move into the new location, which is located at 805 Pennsylvania Avenue in Kansas City.
“We’re excited to announce ERS and NIFA’s new, permanent home in downtown Kansas City and provide clarity on commute times and work-life balance for our employees,” Perdue said. “Both agencies have been hard at work in the Beacon Center after relocating to the region over a month ago, and signing this lease is an important next step to facilitate their long-term efficiency, effectiveness and service to our customers.”
Perdue cited a number of cost savings that the federal government will achieve through the move, although the department has repeatedly declined to produce its financial analysis. But The Kansas City Star reports that at least some of the savings will be achieved as a result of state and city incentives—paid for by Missouri taxpayers—to reduce the cost of rent.
“The city could redirect up to $6 million in local taxes to support the relocation, pending a City Council vote on the plan introduced by ordinance on Thursday,” the Star reported. “Additionally, the stated-funded Port Authority of Kansas City has already moved forward with a plan to provide $19.7 million in incentives to the USDA’s landlord over a 15-year period.”
The department said that although the vast majority of ERS and NIFA positions—253 for ERS and 323 for NIFA—will move to Kansas City, the agencies technically will remain headquartered in Washington. At ERS, 76 positions will remain in Washington permanently, while 21 NIFA posts will stay.
The relocation plan remains contentious both in Washington and among organizations that rely on the agencies’ reports and federal grants. Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., led a group of more than 30 lawmakers urging congressional appropriators to adopt House-passed language blocking USDA from implementing the move, and the National Farmers Union, the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association and a number of land-grant universities have announced their opposition to the plan.