USDA will keep 76 Economic Research Service employees in the Washington, D.C., area when it moves the agency beyond the Beltway, the department said Tuesday.

The ERS administrator would be one of the people to stay in the D.C. area, referred to as the National Capital Region in the document listing those positions. Nineteen people in ERS’s Information Services Division also would stay, along with 19 in the Market and Trade Economics Division, 16 in the Resource and Rural Economics Division, 15 in the Food Economics Division, and six more in the administrator’s office.

ERS had about 300 employees when USDA announced in August it planned to move that agency and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which at that time had about 400 employees, according to USDA.

Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue has said the moves would benefit the agencies by making it easier for them to recruit new employees who might not want to move to the expensive D.C. area. Relocation also would place ERS and NIFA employees closer to ag stakeholders and land-grant universities. 

In a statement, a USDA spokesperson said, “As part of our vision to make USDA the most efficient, most effective, and most customer-focused department in the federal government, USDA recently shared information with NIFA and ERS employees describing the proposed functionality of each agency which has been determined to remain within the National Capital Region versus the functionality that will be relocated. Currently, USDA’s highest priority regarding the relocation is communicating with our employees. As there is additional information to share with the public, USDA remains committed to doing so.”

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USDA has not decided where it plans to move the agencies. The relocation date of August 2019 has been delayed, Deputy Secretary Steve Censky said recently in an internal email, because department contractor Ernst & Young was not able to work during the government shutdown.

The department has received "expressions of interest" from 136 entities that have sought to house the agencies.

The relocation plans have been criticized by former leaders of ERS and NIFA and many outside groups such as the American Statistical Association, the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC).

Congress also included, in a conference report accompanying the department’s fiscal 2019 spending bill, nonbinding language that calls on USDA to “delay indefinitely” the relocation plans and perform a cost-benefit analysis of the moves.

Ferd Hoefner, a senior strategic adviser at NSAC, called distribution of the list “a fairly clear signal that the administration plans to ignore the directive from Congress” in the conference report. “That is very disturbing, and we hope Congress will continue to assert its authority to do thorough oversight before deciding whether or not to fund this misguided relocation proposal.”

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