The Department of Agriculture announced recently that it is moving the headquarters of two subagencies outside of Washington, DC potentially forcing hundreds of federal employees at the agencies to relocate as well.
The Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) will both be located outside of Washington. New locations have yet to be determined, but the USDA said it is possible that ERS and NIFA may be co-located when their new homes are found.
According to the latest available employment data from the Office of Personnel Management, there are just over 700 total employees at both agencies (404 at NIFA and 303 at ERS).
Regarding employees working at the agencies, USDA said that none of them will be involuntarily separated. However, USDA is seeking approval from the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget for both Voluntary Early Retirement Authority (VERA) and Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments (VSIP).
“Every employee who wants to continue working will have an opportunity to do so, although that will mean moving to a new location for most,” said USDA in its press release.
Relocation assistance will be provided and employees will receive the same base pay as before along with locality pay for the new location. The movement of the agency employees is expected to be completed by the end of 2019.
Reason for Relocation
USDA said it is conducting the relocation of the two agencies for the following reasons:
- 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. USDA has experienced significant turnover in these positions, and it has been difficult to recruit employees to the Washington, DC area, particularly given the high cost of living and long commutes.
- To place these important USDA resources closer to many of stakeholders, most of whom live and work far from the Washington, DC area.
- To benefit the American taxpayers. There will be significant savings on employment costs and rent, which will allow more employees to be retained in the long run, even in the face of tightening budgets.
“It’s been our goal to make USDA the most effective, efficient, and customer-focused department in the entire federal government,” USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said. “In our Administration, we have looked critically at the way we do business, with the ultimate goal of ensuring the best service possible for our customers, and for the taxpayers of the United States. In some cases, this has meant realigning some of our offices and functions, or even relocating them, in order to make more logical sense or provide more streamlined and efficient services.”
Moving Agencies Out of DC
There has been a recent push to relocate federal agencies outside of Washington, so USDA’s announcement is perhaps not a surprise.
Earlier this year, legislation was introduced to require federal agencies to move their headquarters out of Washington, DC. And last year, legislation was introduced that would establish a commission to study the relocation of select executive agencies or their divisions outside of the Washington metropolitan area.
Although neither bill has advanced, they represent a philosophy among some in Congress that federal agencies should not always necessarily be located in Washington DC.
As former Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), a proponent of moving agencies out of Washington, once said, “Government needs to be closer to the people it regulates. As it stands, decision makers at various agencies are largely shielded from the impact of their decisions.”