Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is moving two units of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) out of Washington, D.C. to the Kansas City region in Kansas and Missouri.
The USDA agencies that will move are the Economic Research Service (ERS), which analyzes agricultural and rural economics, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which makes research grants.
“The Kansas City Region has proven itself to be a hub for all things agriculture and is a booming city in America’s heartland,” Perdue stated in a June 13 press release.
The move allows the agencies “to increase efficiencies and effectiveness and bring important resources and manpower closer to all of our customers,” Perdue said.
Saving Taxpayer Dollars
The USDA estimates the move will save taxpayers $20 million a year, and nearly $300 million over a 15 year period, in reduced costs of leases and personnel. In addition, state and local governments offered financial incentives totaling more than $26 million for the agencies to move.
The USDA evaluated 136 “expressions of interest” before choosing the Kansas City location, the press release states.
“While 90 percent of USDA employees are located outside of the D.C. area, ERS and NIFA are the only USDA agencies that don’t have representation outside of the national Capital Region,” the release states. A total of 547 positions will be relocated.
Housing, Personnel Costs Lower
The move will make living costs more affordable for USDA employees, says Jonathan Bydlak, founder and president of the Coalition to Reduce Spending.
“From a strictly dollars-and-cents perspective, this move was very smart,” Bydlak said. “The median home price in the Kansas City area in 2019 is under $150,000, compared to $566,500 in the Washington, D.C. area,” Bydlak said. “If anything, this move could allow more top talent to be recruited, and at a lower cost.”
Closer to the People
It is preferable to have federal agencies located near the industries they actually serve, Bydlak says.
“The closer government is to the people, the better decisions it can make,” Bydlak said. “That said, taxpayers should demand cost savings and accountability just as much with the agency located in Kansas City as if it were located in Washington, D.C., because waste is inherent in government no matter where it is located.”
Critics argue the move “diminishes the importance” of the Agriculture Department’s work, but that’s not true, says Bydlak.
“The factor that most diminishes the department’s work is waste and mismanagement, not where it might be located,” Bydlak said.
‘Entrenched Support for Bureaucracy’
Making the job markets of heartland towns dependent on the federal government can create additional resistance to spending cuts, says Bydlak.
“If an agency were to be trimmed or even eliminated in Washington, D.C., the overall economy would continue as normal,” Bydlak said. “Now, policymakers will have to contend with the prospect of contracting or even crashing small-town economies if they cut back, and fiscally conservative lawmakers will now have intense pushback from conservative voters when they consider cutting bureaucracy.”
Other agencies should consider moving offices out of Washington, D.C. if it cuts costs, but that’s only one of many reforms necessary to cut federal spending, says Bydlak.
“If the agencies can save money and operate better by doing so, it’s worth a conversation, but the above-mentioned concerns about creating nationwide, entrenched support for bureaucracy should give pause for any fiscal conservative who might see these sorts of moves as an easy path to savings,” he said.
Ashley Herzog ([email protected]) writes from Avon Lake, Ohio.