A shakeup expected to relocate as many as 700 federal government employees could serve as an economic boon to the Midwest if Kansas and Missouri manage to sell the U.S. Department of Agriculture on one of the two states.
U.S. Reps. Vicky Hartzler and Sam Graves, both Republicans, and Emanuel Cleaver II, a Democrat, are all pushing the United States Department of Agriculture to bring the jobs to the Kansas City metro area. In an interview, Hartzler said Missouri’s members of Congress would reach out to Kansas-side delegates and other Midwestern states to “speak with one voice for the heartland.”
The USDA is restructuring some departments and moving its Economic Research Service and its National Institute of Food and Agriculture out of Washington — possibly to the same site. The move is expected to be completed by the end of 2019.
“If we receive the relocation of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and Economic Research Service to our area, I think it will really draw upon the vast knowledge of agriculture and the resources of the heartland to ensure the USDA economic data is accurate and the agriculture research and programs meet the need of the American farmer, consumer and rancher,” Hartzler said.
In a release, the USDA said the employees are being relocated to improve the department’s ability to attract and retail qualified staff, put USDA staffers closer to farmers and save taxpayer dollars by moving to a lower-cost site.
“USDA has experienced significant turnover in these positions, and it has been difficult to recruit employees to the Washington, D.C. area, particularly given the high cost of living and long commutes,” the release says.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in the release the announcement doesn’t reflect the work being done by current employees, all of whom will be offered a chance to stay with the department, which likely means relocation.
“These changes are more steps down the path to better service to our customers and will help us fulfill our informal motto to ‘Do right and feed everyone,’” Perdue said.
Hartzler said the ERS jobs pay an average of $120,000 per year. NIFA jobs, she said, pay between $110,000 and $190,000.
The release says employees who relocate will get assistance and be offered the same base pay with a new locality pay, indicating salaries could be cut according to cost of living at the new location.
In an email, the department said the change was not undertaken as a “method of reducing staff,” though the release said the USDA is seeking approval to offer voluntary early retirement and voluntary separation incentives.
Hartzler said she, Cleaver and Graves sent a letter to the department touting the benefits of relocating the departments to Kansas City, including access to workforce, proximity to land-grant universities, lower operating costs, quality of life, transportation access and a central location.
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, was also interested in landing the jobs.
“Sen. Moran is very interested in the agencies being relocated in Kansas and is in conversations about the best location to meet the needs of USDA and to benefit Kansas,” said his spokesman Tom Brandt.
Hartzler said the USDA already has staff from two divisions in Kansas City and another in St. Louis.
“Clearly, the USDA already recognizes the value of having some of their agencies housed in the heartland in Kansas City and St. Louis, and it just makes sense to bring two other agencies to this same region,” Hartzler said.