Guest Commentary

Moving USDA jobs to Kansas City: All wisdom does not reside in Washington

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue

In Washington, D.C., there is a collective myth that beltway elites and politicians know better than the folks who live across the heartland. Having visited all 50 states since becoming U.S. secretary of agriculture two years ago, I’ve traveled more than 100,000 miles, held nearly 200 town halls and visited almost 100 farms across the country listening to United States Department of Agriculture customers day in and day out.

President Donald Trump was elected to change Washington by making government more accountable and bringing it closer to the American people. It’s true that not all wisdom resides in D.C. There is a wealth of talent throughout the country, and we want to tap into that.

It has been my goal since day one to make the USDA the most effective, efficient and customer-focused department in the federal government. Part of that means being more responsive to those who reside outside of D.C. The president instructed his cabinet to look critically at the way we do business, with the goal of ensuring the best possible service for our customers and for the American taxpayers.

At the USDA, our customers are those in rural America who have unique interests and needs, and many depend on critical economic analysis and cutting-edge research. That is why we are moving over 500 jobs from ERS and NIFA, the USDA’s Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture, out of Washington and into your backyard. Over 90% of the USDA’s workforce already resides outside of D.C. ERS and NIFA are the only two USDA agencies that do not have representation outside of the capital.

I always say the USDA has the best employees in the federal government, and over the past 10 months we have worked to ensure that the new location for ERS and NIFA prioritizes their needs. The USDA followed a rigorous site selection process focused on quality of life for our employees, including cost of living, quality education and access to health care — items those employees deemed essential. We also focused on costs, both operating and capital, and we looked to the future to ensure the new site had a stable labor force and modern technology infrastructure.

Kansas City has proven itself to be a hub for all things agriculture. It’s a booming city in America’s heartland. There is already a significant presence of USDA and federal government employees in the region, including the Kansas City “ag bank” Federal Reserve. This agriculture talent pool, in addition to multiple land-grant universities within driving distance, provides a stable labor force for the future.

American taxpayers stand to benefit significantly with the move to Kansas City. Over the lease term of 15 years, the USDA will save nearly $300 million nominally. On top of that, state and local governments have offered strong relocation support for our employees and their families. These savings can be used to fund research for critical needs such as rural prosperity and agricultural competitiveness.

Moving ERS and NIFA out of D.C. will save money and boost the Kansas City region. Our employees will bring their families with them, stimulating and infusing the local economy with new capital and labor. Bringing stability and investment to areas outside of Washington is not only a good thing for other parts of the country — it brings us closer to our customers and stakeholders, increasing our effectiveness to do business.

Relocation is not something to be taken lightly. The USDA has been working diligently to respect the needs of our employees and increase responsiveness to our stakeholders. We look forward to this new chapter and what the future holds for the USDA in Kansas City as we continue our mission: to do right and feed everyone.

Sonny Perdue is U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.