Plans by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to relocate two of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research agencies so they’re closer physically to the actual agriculture industry has inspired anger from federal employees who seemingly resent being forced to live so close to flyover country rubes.
These employees with the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture expressed their anger this week by turning their backs as Perdue announced the move:
American Federation of Government Employees members from NIFA snd ERS turn backs on Agriculture Secretary Perdue at session on their unwanted relocation from DC to Kansas City area. #USDA pic.twitter.com/40JlVtuXFl
— Jerry Hagstrom (@hagstromreport) June 13, 2019
According to Perdue, the move from the bubble in Washington, D.C., to the agricultural mecca of Kansas City, Missouri, will also save taxpayers $20 million per year.
“Following a rigorous site selection process, the Kansas City Region provides a win win-maximizing our mission function by putting taxpayer savings into programmatic outputs and providing affordability, easy commutes, and extraordinary living for our employees,” he said in a statement Thursday.
“The Kansas City Region has proven itself to be hub for all things agriculture and is 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 and research universities within driving distance, provides access to a stable labor force for the future.”
We picked Kansas City for the new location of @USDA_ERS & @USDA_NIFA. KC helps us move closer to our stakeholders & redirects taxpayer savings into funding for research of critical needs like rural prosperity and agricultural competitiveness. More HERE: https://t.co/i5r7ZtUysN pic.twitter.com/4oRuMMekt3
— Sec. Sonny Perdue (@SecretarySonny) June 13, 2019
Congressional Republicans reportedly celebrated the move.
“We’re home to some of the hardest working farmers in the country, so this is a fantastic decision by the USDA,” Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley said in a statement.
“As the new home of the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Missouri and Kansas will continue to lead in the research and development of American agricultural policy for the 21st century. We are grateful for the job opportunities and renewed partnership this move creates for our state.”
Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt concurred.
“Secretary Perdue made the right choice in selecting Kansas City, which is a great place to live and work,” he said. “The challenges and opportunities have never been greater than they will be in the next 25 years. These research agencies do great work, and will be at the cutting edge of agriculture and well located for assistance and examples as they do their job.”
This is a huge win for the entire region and further bolsters KC’s status as a national leader in the ag industry. https://t.co/d0mJvtl6O9
— Senator Jerry Moran (@JerryMoran) June 13, 2019
The Kansas City Area Development Council and its partners were equally ecstatic. In a joint press release, the groups noted that 5,000 other USDA employees already work in the Kansas City area and that the move will put the ERS and NIFA “within 300 miles of 13 land grant universities.”
“With 56 percent of total worldwide animal health, diagnostics and pet food sales, the Kansas City region is home to more than 300 animal health companies, representing the largest concentration in the world,” Kimberly Young, the president of the Kansas City Animal Health Corridor, added.
“We welcome the opportunity to collaborate with the USDA to advance cutting-edge discoveries, develop the next generation of agriculture talent and ensure the safety of the nation’s food supply.”
All of this bodes well for the agencies’ work, so what’s the problem?
Both congressional Democrats and a host of anonymous ERS and NIFA employees who spoke with the media have claimed without evidence that the move is rooted in politics.
They reportedly said this “relocation is a back-door attempt to shrink the agency and clamp down on research that doesn’t align with the Trump administration’s priorities,” according to Politico.
What sort of research? That involving climate change:
Many employees at ERS, who conduct research into areas like climate change, nutrition and the farm economy, and at NIFA, who arrange federal grants for ag research, have told POLITICO they believe the move is rooted in politics. @liz_crampton w/latest: https://t.co/VnW5pKuOiU
— Helena Bottemiller Evich (@hbottemiller) June 13, 2019
The change as politically driven and a way to disrupt climate research and other work their bosses disagree with. Both agencies recently voted overwhelmingly to unionize to push back against the move.
— LittleShireFarm (@Littleshirefarm) June 14, 2019
Many of @USDA staffers believe their relocation is an effort to silence their research into topics that do not align with the Trump administration’s political agenda, including the study of climate change and benefits of low-income food assistance. https://t.co/Ffsl5qyVth
— Chellie Pingree (@chelliepingree) June 13, 2019
Neither Politico nor any other outlet that reported on the employees’ protests were able to city a single piece of evidence to substantiate this conspiracy theory.
Current and former ERS and NIFA employees have also alleged that the relocation “could disrupt operations and drive out experienced researchers,” according to Politico.
However, no reason is provided as to why exactly the relocation would trigger a brain drain. If anything, the move is expected to attract even more talent.
— The Hill (@thehill) June 13, 2019
“To improve USDA’s ability to attract and retain highly qualified staff with training and interests in agriculture, many of whom come from land-grant universities,” the USDA notes.
“USDA has experienced significant turnover in these positions, and it has been difficult to recruit employees to the Washington, D.C. area, particularly given the high cost of living and long commutes.”
So again, what’s the problem? Some cynics suspect that the ERS and NIFA’s presumably left-wing employees simply don’t care for flyover country.
“This entire protest also comes off as nakedly elitist,” a RedState commentator opined. “It’s as if their lives are over because they might have to survive among the rubes outside of the North East corridor. Kansas City is not a 3rd world country. They’ve got internet, those color TV gadgets, and I even hear cars are thing there now.”
— The Irishman (@commonpatriot) June 14, 2019
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