Downtown Kansas City, Missouri

Downtown Kansas City, Missouri taken from the Sheraton Hotel at Crown Center.

Creative Commons License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

View Photo on FLickr: https://flic.kr/p/cJ21uG

Kansas City will soon be getting the offices of USDA’s Economic Research Service, and National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The move should save about $300 million on employment costs and rent over the 15-year lease, USDA said Thursday.

Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue said Kansas City stood out because USDA already has a strong presence in the region, and the regional Federal Reserve Bank based there has an emphasis on agriculture.

More than 100 bids were submitted to host the agencies. North Carolina and Indiana were the other finalists.

Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue proposed the move last year, saying the change of scenery would help attract high-caliber staff, save taxpayer money, and bring the agencies closer to stakeholders.

But some House Democrats worry the move is designed to thin the research agencies’ ranks and marginalize their work.

Democrats have introduced legislation to keep the agencies in the D.C. region and held a hearing on the matter just last week.

While the agencies have reportedly lost staff and morale since the move was announced, USDA said the cost savings will increase the amount of money available for research and salaries despite tightening budgets.

The Trump administration has proposed a 30% budget cut for ERS, with a quarter of the remaining $61 million going to the relocation.

Ninety percent of USDA staff are based outside the Beltway, many in farmer service centers and regional research farms.

ERS and NIFA, which work mainly with researchers, not farmers, were the only USDA agencies that didn’t have staff outside the Beltway, according to the agency.

Some 253 ERS staff will move to Kansas City, while 76 will stay in Washington.

Another 294 of NIFA’s positions will move to Kansas City, while 21 will stay behind.

No employees will be terminated as part of the move.

Employees will be offered relocation assistance. They will receive the same base pay as before plus the locality pay for the new location.

USDA hasn’t actually chosen permanent office space yet, but will be doing so through another competitive bidding process.

Perdue also announced on Thursday that ERS will stay in the research sector of USDA and will not be moved into the Office of the Chief Economist.

Critics feared that realignment, announced along with the relocation last year, would politicize ERS research.

Phil Gruber is the news editor at Lancaster Farming. He can be reached at (717) 721-4427 or pgruber.eph@lnpnews.com. Follow him @PhilLancFarming on Twitter.