Fewer than 150 employees of the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture have agreed to move to the Kansas City region, where their agencies are being relocated, according to USDA.

Late Tuesday afternoon, a USDA spokesperson said 72 ERS employees and 73 NIFA employees had agreed to move, and 250 — 99 from ERS and 151 from NIFA — had declined. Monday was the deadline by which employees had to decide whether they would relocate. They are required to report to work Sept. 30.

The two agencies have about 480 employees currently, according to union representatives. Seventy-six ERS employees and 21 NIFA employees will remain in Washington, D.C.

The spokesperson said the “declinations” include employees who did not provide a response. “We expect these numbers may fluctuate until Sept. 30,” USDA said, because “employees are free to change their status until that date.” The department said it would “implement an aggressive hiring strategy to maintain the continuity of ERS and NIFA’s work.”

The “acceptances” represent about 36% of the employees eligible for the move, according to the Kansas City Area Development Council, which took a leading role in the region’s application and in persuading USDA to choose Kansas City.

“Our team has been working with the USDA and individuals interested in relocating to the KC region since the decision was announced,” said KCADC executive director Tim Cowden. The 36% acceptance rate "is in line for a typical HQ relocation.”

Cowden added, “We are committed to working with all USDA employees interested in relocating to KC. In fact, we have a team dedicated to them. We expect there will be others who may elect to relocate to KC and our community is ready to welcome them.”

The move, however, has been criticized by former ERS administrators and NIFA directors as unnecessary and even counterproductive. ERS and NIFA employees, who recently voted to unionize, also have blasted the move and asked USDA both for more time to decide and to be able to telework for a year.

“We believe these numbers are inflated,” said Kevin Hunt, an American Federation of Government Employees rep for ERS. Numbers he provided based on a union survey show 32 employees plan to move permanently, and 21 for up to six months. Those 53 employees would represent about 30% of the 174 ERS employees who received reassignment letters.

A NIFA union rep told Agri-Pulse last week that a survey he conducted showed 10 employees willing to relocate and another 56 willing to do so “only as a last resort.”

Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue has argued the relocation will save USDA millions in rent and employee salaries, and benefit the department by moving employees closer to farmers. Opponents of the relocation have disputed the government's rationale and questioned its cost-benefit analysis.

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