Department of Agriculture leaders plan to relocate the bulk of two agencies from Washington, D.C., to the Kansas City region.
The move affects about 547 of the 644 employees from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the USDA Economic Research Service. Dr. Michael Gilsdorf, executive vice president of the National Association of Federal Veterinarians, said he knew of six veterinarians at NIFA who would be relocated under the plan. No veterinarians work at the ERS, a spokeswoman said.
Agriculture Secretary Dr. Sonny Perdue said in an announcement the move would reduce government costs by $20 million each year and move the agencies closer to other agriculture institutions. He said in a separate letter to employees the decision would improve service to USDA customers.
NIFA would relocate 294 of its employees and keep 21 in D.C., and the ERS would send 253 and keep 76 in D.C., according to cost-benefit analysis published with the announcement.
Hundreds of employees from both agencies joined the American Federation of Government Employees ahead of the June 13 announcement that the USDA had selected Kansas City for relocating agency workers. On May 10, the ERS employees who cast ballots voted 138-4 to unionize. On June 11, NIFA employees voted 137-2.
The AFGE argues that the move is an effort to undermine work disliked by the administration such as research on climate change, analysis of tax policy, and grants to encourage LGBT youth to participate in 4-H. AFGE officials said the administration gave affected employees 30 days to decide whether to move with their jobs.
"The USDA has provided no rational justification to employees, to Congress, or to its stakeholders for this move, which will make it harder for the agencies to coordinate with other science and research agencies," AFGE President J. David Cox said in an announcement. "We will continue to work with Congress and other parties to fight this wrongheaded proposal, which is little more than a backdoor way to slash the workforce and silence the parts of the agencies' research that the administration views as inconvenient."
On May 23, U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland introduced a bill that would require National Capital Region locations for the headquarters of the ERS, NIFA, USDA Agricultural Research Service, and USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.
The nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service published in June a report that indicates federal employees who work in field offices reported feeling less engaged than colleagues at D.C. headquarters and less satisfaction with all aspects measured in a survey.
"In conversations with federal leaders and employees, we heard that those in the field often feel isolated from the rest of their agency and disconnected from senior leaders," the report states. "We were told employees sometimes feel they are treated as 'stepchildren' and do not think leaders at headquarters consult with regional offices on decisions that impact their work."
Field employees also perceive a bias in favor of headquarters employees for recognition of good work and lack of opportunities for field employees to advance their careers.