Government & Politics

Federal union predicts ‘catastrophic attrition’ from USDA move to Kansas City

A federal union is projecting that four out of five employees working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service in Washington, D.C., might decline being reassigned this year to Kansas City.

The American Federal Government Employees Local No. 3403 said on Wednesday that ERS, one of two research agencies under the USDA slated to relocate to Kansas City, will experience “catastrophic employee attrition” from workers declining to move to Kansas City.

The USDA downplayed the AFGE’s forecast.

“We will not know employee decisions until July 15th,” said a USDA spokesman. “In the meantime, we are doing everything we can to ensure employees have the resources and information to make their decisions and to implement the transition smoothly and efficiently to ensure mission critical work can continue.”

The USDA is planning to move the ERS and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture to Kansas City starting in September, a move that the department says will bring researchers closer to their subjects. Critics of the move say it’s a way to minimize the research done by ERS and NIFA.

The USDA’s announcement earlier this month that Kansas City beat out 135 other cities hoping to land the 550 high-paying jobs across both agencies was applauded by political and civic leaders in the region.

Some employees have expressed doubts about whether they want to move to Kansas City on a short time frame, or at all. An appropriations bill passed by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on Tuesday awarded money to both agencies but said none of it can be used to move ERS and NIFA out of the Washington, D.C., region.

The appropriations bill, if passed by the Senate in its current form, would take effect on Oct. 1. USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue wants research agency employees to start moving in September using current year funds. Local congressional members hoped the Senate would allow funding for the relocation in the next fiscal year.

Kansas City leaders are hoping to persuade ERS and NIFA employees on the merits of moving to the Kansas City region. But the AFGE report Wednesday said more than four of five among about 200 ERS employees may decline relocation.

“The current and projected attrition will curtail research data products that encompass commodity estimates, agricultural sector forecasts, food and farm economic and statistical indicators for U.S. agriculture, conservation, and food policy and markets,” said Local 3403 acting vice president Kevin Hunt in a statement.

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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.