Perdue announced earlier Thursday morning that the Economic Research Service, which provides research and statistical analysis for lawmakers, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which allocates federal research funding, will be relocated to Kansas City from Washington, D.C. — the final announcement in a process that began last year.
The moment of solidarity comes after both agencies — the Economic Research Service last month and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture just this week — voted overwhelmingly to unionize to push back against the move, which many view as politically driven.
“Following a rigorous site selection process, the Kansas City Region provides a win win — maximizing our mission function by putting taxpayer savings into programmatic outputs and providing affordability, easy commutes, and extraordinary living for our employees,” Perdue said. “The Kansas City Region has proven itself to be hub for all things agriculture and is a booming city in America’s heartland.
Near the end of his nine-minute speech Perdue said, “Moving you out of the capital area in no way lessens your importance.” The secretary took no questions from employees after speaking.
Kevin Hunt, acting vice president of the ERS Union, condemned the move as “cold-hearted” and that it “highlights his disregard for the rights and well-being of employees.”
“Secretary Perdue continually speaks of transparency and communicating to employees but has failed on both fronts,” Hunt said.
The announcement included a cost benefit analysis report that says the agency will save $300 million over a 15-year period.
The USDA also walked back its previously announced plan to reorganize the Economic Research Service under a political branch of the department, saying they will not move forward with this “after hearing feedback from stakeholders and members of Congress,” according to Thursday’s release.
The agency will remain part of the research, education and economics mission of the department.
In a conference call with reporters Thursday afternoon, Perdue said that “Congress can do what Congress does, and we will respect that.” He added that they have tried their best to persuade Congress and hope that the move will be seen as a “legitimate executive function.”
The USDA’s inspector general is also investigating whether Perdue has the legal authority to move the agencies.
Perdue also thanked the two research agencies for their “professionalism” and said it’s “understandable” that some have expressed displeasure. He added that this decision was not made “with disruption in mind,” and that federal employees have many other opportunities within the government should they choose to stay. Employees were to receive their reassignment information on Thursday.
“I’m convinced that once people who choose to move can relocate to Kansas City I think there will be more furor trying to move them back after three or four years than moving them here,” Perdue said. “It’s not like a company closing in rural America where there are no other jobs there.”
Other agencies within the USDA are also experiencing uncertainty.