Moving USDA Employees to Kansas City Becoming a Reality

USDA and AFGE have reached an agreement on relocating federal employees from Washington, DC to Kansas City.

Union/USDA Agreement on Move

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) have reached agreement on moving some federal employees out of the Washington, DC area to Kansas City. That is unusual as moving federal agencies out of the DC area rarely happens.

Under the new agreement, affected Agriculture Department employees have until September 27th to decide whether or not to relocate. For employees who do relocate, the agreement between the agency and union provides a financial incentive equal to one month’s salary.

Employees who are moving and accept the financial incentive have to agree to remain at the new location in Kansas City for at least one year. The additional amount would be paid after a period of acceptable performance in the new location for six months.

Also, the agency will allow relocating employees to work remotely until at least the end of December.

In addition, the agency will provide temporary housing for 60 days in the new location and will facilitate extensions for another 60 days.

Rationale for Move to Kansas City

On June 13, 2019, the Department of Agriculture announced plans to relocate two of its agencies to the Kansas City area. The two agencies are the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The Secretary of Agriculture was quoted as follows:

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. The Kansas City Region will allow ERS and NIFA to increase efficiencies and effectiveness and bring important resources and manpower closer to all of our customers. 

USDA Announces Intent to Relocate Two Agencies to Kansas City

Out of NIFA’s 315 positions, 294 were to relocate while 21 would remain in the national capital region. Of the 329 ERS positions, 253 would relocate while 76 would stay in the Washington, D.C. area.

Why is Moving Outside DC Difficult?

Moving federal agencies to other areas of the country is an idea that periodically makes the news and bills have been introduced in Congress to implement the idea. As former Indiana Congressman Luke Messer stated in support of his bill to move agencies out of the DC area, “There’s no reason why the Department of Agriculture has to be in the District of Columbia when it could be located in Indiana or another heartland state.”

The wealth factor is often cited by politicians for moving agencies. The wealth factor is reflected in the affluence of counties around the nation’s capital. The Washington, DC area has half of the ten wealthiest counties in America thanks in large part to the impact of the federal government. The affluence of the area is also reflected in Washington’s high cost of living.

But, while the idea of moving federal agencies out of Washington has support in some quarters and may make sense with the rapid forms of communication now available, it rarely happens.

One reason is opposition from within Congress and the Washington establishment. For example, while AFGE has agreed with the agency on terms of the relocation, the union is still fighting the idea. As noted in a press release:

This (agreement) is certainly a positive development that could encourage more employees to relocate, but it does not make up for all the anxiety and anguish that employees have been going through since this relocation was first announced,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox. “At the end of the day, we remain convinced that this forced relocation is bad for employees, bad for the agricultural community and bad for taxpayers. But we are determined to effectively represent these employees, whether they’re in Kansas City or Washington.

Congressional representatives from the Washington metropolitan area can be counted on to oppose any move such as this relatively small move. Reflecting predictable opposition from employees who do not want to move to another area of the country, federal employee unions also will generate publicity to counter the proposal to move employees out of the Washington area.

Will the Move to Kansas City Actually Happen?

Because of intense opposition regarding the move, until the move actually occurs, it is not a certainty that it will occur.

In Agriculture Department’s Inspector General has issued a report stating:

[W]hile the General Provisions of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 (Omnibus Act) provides certain budgetary authorities to the Department, there
are established limitations on such authorities to realign or relocate offices. Further, the Department has not obtained Congressional approval, as required by Section 717(a) of the Omnibus Act, and has not complied with the reporting deadline requirement in Section 753 of the Omnibus Act.

The IG report also notes that USDA states its actions “comply fully with all applicable laws and that the budgetary provisions cited in the report requiring committee approval are unconstitutional. In addition, the response stated that the views of all three branches of Government support the Department’s position.”

So, will the move of two relatively small agencies to Kansas City actually occur? We probably will not know unless or until it has actually happens. The established opposition to these moves do not give up easily and until all avenues of opposition have been exhausted, the move is not certain.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47