Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue is relocating USDA’s economic research units and 85 percent of their jobs to the greater Kansas City area. USDA’s researchers do some food safety research.

Perdue Thursday announced that both USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) along with 547 jobs are moving to the Kansas City “region.”

The states of Kansas and Missouri jointly submitted the Kansas City Region during USDA’S site selection process. The area was up against 135 other proposals. Indiana and North Carolina were among the finalists with the Kansas city area.

Perdue said the Kansas City region won out because it offers USDA affordability, easy commutes, and extraordinary living, while providing the research units with “nearly $300 million nominally over a 15-year lease term on employment costs and rent or about $20 million per year. . .”

He said that would allow more funding for research. Also, state and local governments in the region are offering USDA “generous relocation incentive packages totaling more than $26 million.”

The ERS will move out of Patriot’s Plaza, a high rise built on spec after 9/11 for government agencies in the nation’s capital looking for secured space. NIFA will be leaving a second class building on the Potomac waterfront.

New leases within the two-state Kansas City area are yet to be worked out. Media in the Kansas City area has identified numerous buildings that would work for ERS and NIFA, on both the Kansas and Missouri sides of the state line that bisects the metro area.

The USDA is said to be looking for existing office space, not new construction opportunities. It is looking on both sides of the Kansas-Missouri line for 120,000 square feet of Class A office space.

After Perdue’s announcement, it was U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Missouri, who best explained USDA’s rationale for moving the agencies. He said the 550 jobs moving to the Kansas City area will come with salaries in the range of $80,000 to $100,000.

“All of the employees who are there now will get an opportunity to move,” Cleaver said. “And I’ve been saying to USDA and USDA employees you will be rich in Kansas City. . . and $80,000 here (in Washington D.C.) gets you a studio apartment and no parking space.”

Some reaction
Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, D-CT, who chairs the congressional Food Safety Caucus, apparently does not see Kansas City as a place for “sound science.” She wants ERS and NIFA kept in the beltway and said: “this battle is long from over.” DeLauro serves on the House subcommittee responsible for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, where she helps oversee food and drug safety funding.

Mike Lavender with the Union of Concerned Scientists claims the move is part of a plan for “systematically hollowing out USDA’s ability to produce objective science. ”

And the Beltway-based American Statistical Association (ASA) continues to oppose the moves out of the District.

“National policy is made in Washington, D.C,” said ASA Executive Director Ron Wasserstein. “It is common sense that the ERS and NIFA, so vital to informing food and agriculture policy, should be located where national policy is made.”

The Kansas City area selection announcement means the region is now free to speak up for itself.

Tom Cowden, chief executive of the Kansas City Area Development Council, says the research units are USDA’s “crown jewels.” He says farmers and ranchers will prefer having them in Interstate 435 loop, rather than inside the D.C. Beltway.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-KS, was offering assurances that USDA research would continue at a high quality. “I am committed to ensuring we continue to support and strengthen the research mission that our U.S. producers rely on,” said Roberts, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee.

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