The federal government employees union representing workers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture is claiming many institute functionaries plan to shirk their commitment to public service by refusing to follow their jobs being relocated to Kansas City.
American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. on July 18 issued a statement in response to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s announcement that two-thirds of employees at the Economic Research Service and NIFA have said they will not relocate from Washington, D.C., to the Kansas City area as the agency is demanding.
“Given all the employees who have resigned in recent months in light of this ill-advised relocation, plus those who say they will not relocate, USDA is likely to retain less than 10% of the total workforce at these two agencies once all is said and done,” Cox said.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced June 13 that 294 NIFA employees are among more than 550 USDA research employees scheduled to move from the Washington, D.C., area to Kansas City on or before Sept. 30.
AFGE alleges the decision gives NIFA employees insufficient time to move.
On July 3, the General Services Administration, which helps manage and support federal agencies, extended until Aug. 7 the deadline to submit bids for the Kansas City location for NIFA and USDA’s Economic Research Service.
In mid-June media reports, Perdue said the decision is a cost-saving measure and will bring USDA staff closer to their “stakeholders” in farming regions.
Perdue told Politico that relocating ERS and NIFA would bring the research agencies closer to major farming regions, improve customer service and save taxpayers about $20 million per year over 15 years.
“We did not undertake these relocations lightly, and we are doing it to enhance long-term sustainability and success of these agencies,” Perdue said in a USDA news release. “The considerable taxpayer savings will allow us to be more efficient and improve our ability to retain more employees in the long run.”
Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley praised the decision. “We’re home to some of the hardest working farmers in the country, so this is a fantastic decision by the USDA” he said in a news release.
“We’re within 300 miles of 13 land grant universities,” said Kimberly Young, president of the Kansas City Animal Health Corridor, a development council initiative. The area is an epicenter of the animal health industry, Young told The Washington Post, with more than 300 such companies nearby.
NIFA’s union said more than two out of three employees being reassigned to Kansas City will refuse to relocate, although 29% would be willing to consider relocation if USDA agrees to AGFE demands such as a “reasonable” amount of time for employees to make arrangements for their families and housing.
“Moving a granting agency at the end of the fiscal year will have a detrimental impact on getting grant money out the door to our stakeholders,” Local 3403 Acting Vice President for NIFA Wesley Dean said. “Our staff, with all their years of experience, are leaving for other agencies. We should be focused on this, rather than hastily moving the agency.”