The Department of Agriculture will be moving two sub-agency headquarters to an area outside of Washington D.C., which would force hundreds of federal workers to have to pick up and move.
The National Institute of Food and Agriculture and Economic Research Services agencies will move, but it’s unclear where they will move to. According to the USDA, the agencies may co-locate within the same building when new homes are found.
The Office of Personnel Management said more than 700 employees working at the agencies would be affected by the move – 404 with NIFA and 303 with ERS. The USDA said no employees would be involuntarily separated, but the USDA is asking for approval from the Office of Management and Budget and Office of Personnel Management for both Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments and Voluntary Early Retirement Authority.
According to the USDA, any employee who would like to stay working with the departments will be allowed to do so but would have to potentially move to a new location for this to happen. The agency said relocation assistance is being offered and employees’ pay will remain the same and may include a locality pay too. The relocation for both agencies should be done by the close of 2019.
Why Are The Agencies’ Relocating?
The USDA said it was relocating the two agencies for three key reasons:
To help the agency attain and keep highly-qualified personnel with agriculture training and interests (some of those coming from land-grant universities). The USDA has seen a high turnover rate for these positions, and it’s been hard to bring employees to the Washington D.C. area where people are subjected to long commutes and a higher cost of living.
To ensure important USDA resources are nearer to stakeholders, most people tend to live away from the nation’s capital.
For the benefit of U.S. taxpayers. Moving away from the D.C. area means lower rental and overhead costs, which means more employees are liable to stay in the position longer even when the agencies’ budgets face tough times.
Sonny Perdue, USDA secretary, said the goal is to ensure the USDA is highly-effective and centered on customer service for the whole federal government. Perdue said the administration took a critical look at how it’s doing business with the end goal of ensuring customers get the best possible service. In several cases, it’s meant reorganizing or relocating some offices and functions, so they make better sense and offer more streamlined services.
Why Are Agencies Being Moved Away From D.C.?
Legislation was introduced in early 2018 to relocate federal agencies’ headquarters to areas outside the nation’s capital, which is why the USDA’s announcement isn’t that big of a surprise. Last year, the government introduced legislation that would set up a commission to look at the relocation of certain executive agencies or their divisions outside the main D.C. area.
While both bills failed to push ahead, there is some consensus that federal agencies don’t have to be located in the Washington D.C. area.
Jason Chaffetz, a former Utah Congressman, said he supports moving these agencies outside the main D.C. area because they should be closer to the people they regulate and help. He said the decision makers of certain agencies are often protected from their decision’s impact.