Agriculture Department Secretary Sonny Perdue announced plans to move 2 subagencies out of the Washington, D.C. area. He said by the end of 2019, employees working for the Economic Research Service (ERS), currently under USDA’s Research, Education, and Economics mission area, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) will relocate outside of D.C.
The 2 bureaus include about 700 employees, although it’s unclear how many will move.
“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,” Perdue said. “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.”
He also said he is realigning the Office of the Chief Economist (OCE) to fall under the Office of the Secretary.
Perdue has been very assertive in reshaping his agency. Behind his OneUSDA initiative, he has been taking steps to promote more efficiencies and ensure the effectiveness of the agency. He consolidated the number of agency chief information officers, reduced the number of administrative functions and created more logical reporting structures.
He was also among one of the first agencies to cut back the number of days employees could telework and proposed a 9% cut in the size of the agency’s workforce and a $6 billion decrease in funding for FY2019.
USDA says there are 3 main reasons for moving these 2 offices outside of the D.C. area:
- 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 agency says they have experienced significant turnover in these positions, and it’s difficult to recruit employees to D.C.
- To place these important USDA resources closer to many of the stakeholders, most of whom live and work far from the D.C. area.
- Finally, to benefit American taxpayers. There will be significant savings on employment cost and rent, which will allow more benefits to being retained in the long run, even with stricter budgets.
USDA hasn’t determined new locations of these offices and ERS/NIFA could be co-located.
Perdue also said no employees from either bureau will be involuntarily separated. “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. Employees will be offered relocation assistance and will receive the same base pay as before, and the locality pay for the new location,” USDA states. “For those who are interested, USDA is seeking approval from the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget for both Voluntary Early Retirement Authority and Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments.”