Government & Politics

U.S. House passes budget with no money for USDA move to Kansas City

The Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday passed an appropriations bill that contains no funding for the proposed relocation of U.S. Department of Agriculture research agencies to the Kansas City area.

Tuesday’s 227-194 vote looks to block a move that Kansas City leaders cheered for the 500-plus jobs it’s expected to move to the region but that has been criticized by some of the researchers who don’t want to leave Washington, D.C., and those who think the relocation is meant to diminish USDA research.

The appropriations bill, if passed in its current form, would take effect on Oct. 1. USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue has said he wants initial employees to report for work in temporary work space in Kansas City in September, a tight timeline possibly meant to begin the move using current year funds. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, has accused Perdue of rushing the move to avoid congressional opposition.

House Resolution 3055 awards $87.8 million to the Economic Research Service so long as none of the money is used to relocate the USDA research agency “outside the National Capital Region.” It awards another $1 billion to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture under the same terms.

Several House members, including Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kansas, and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Missouri, mounted an effort to attach an amendment to the bill that would strike the language prohibiting the relocation of ERS and NIFA, but the measure failed to make it onto the bill.

Davids and Cleaver voted for the broader appropriations bill anyway, as it contained a number of other Democratic priorities, including infrastructure improvements, increased access to health care for veterans, clean air and other measures.

“I remain a big proponent of the relocation of USDA research facilities, which will bring high paying jobs to the Kansas City Region,” Davids said. “I’ll continue to do whatever I can to make sure that move happens, including encouraging the Senate to take up this amendment.”

The bill moves to the Republican-controlled Senate, where the local delegation hopes Sens. Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts, both Kansas Republicans, along with Sens. Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley, Republicans from Missouri, can insert funding for the relocation.

“When all is said and done, I’m confident the funding will be there,” Cleaver said.

Kansas City was selected from a list of 136 cities that aspired to host the relocation of the USDA’s research programs. Kansas City earlier this year made a short list of three regions, including those in North Carolina and Indiana, before ultimately receiving Perdue’s blessing.

It’s not been decided yet where in the Kansas City region the research agencies would go, but a list obtained by The Star indicated that buildings in and near Crown Center, two buildings in downtown Kansas City, one in the Northland, one in Lenexa and the Sprint Campus were explored as the USDA considered the region.

Employees stung by the news that their jobs faced the prospect of being relocated have started forming a union in hopes of stalling the move. Some of them think the USDA is trying to minimize the research by ERS and NIFA.

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Bryan Lowry covers Kansas and Missouri politics as Washington correspondent for The Kansas City Star. He previously served as Kansas statehouse correspondent for The Wichita Eagle and as The Star’s lead political reporter. Lowry contributed to The Star’s investigation into government secrecy that was a finalist for The Pulitzer Prize.
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Steve Vockrodt is an award-winning investigative journalist who has reported in Kansas City since 2005. Areas of reporting interest include business, politics, justice issues and breaking news investigations. Vockrodt grew up in Denver and studied journalism at the University of Kansas.