Why Kansas City? Examining USDA’s relocation choice

After nearly 10 months of speculation and planning, the Agriculture Department last week announced its choice of Kansas City as the new site of the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The decision came after USDA had received 136 expressions of interest. It eventually narrowed the list to three regions, Kansas City included.

But for USDA leadership, the choice to move the majority of ERS and NIFA employees to Kansas City isn’t nearly the end of the process. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told reporters last week the department hadn’t decided whether the new ERS-NIFA headquarters would be situated on the Kansas or Missouri side of the region.

The department hasn’t yet secured a specific building for the new headquarters. USDA will work with the General Services Administration to solicit bid proposals in the region in the beginning of July, Perdue said.

In the meantime, USDA will allow employees who choose to relocate to move to the region as early as July. These employees will work out of the extra space in USDA’s Beacon Complex in Kansas City. Perdue emphasized this building, as well as other GSA-owned buildings in the area, will be a “temporary solution” until USDA can complete the leasing process for another building in Kansas City.

This “swing space,” as USDA characterized it in its cost-benefit analysis, is necessary given the department’s timeline for relocation. USDA expects the first 100 ERS and NIFA employees to move to Kansas City by Aug, with all 644 positions are expected at the new location by Sept. 30.

USDA’s cost-benefit analysis, which wasn’t public until Perdue’s announcement last Thursday, was the subject of much interest and debate among members of Congress. House Democrats on the Appropriations Committee pressed USDA for more details about the relocation and demanded a cost-benefit analysis that explained the department’s rationale for the move.

The department said it wouldn’t release an analysis until it had chosen a final site for USDA relocation. Here are just some of the highlights of that analysis.

In addition, USDA said a variety of incentive packages, including one that totaled more than $26 million, was another benefit that contributed to the department’s Kansas City choice.

USDA requested $25 million in its 2020 budget proposal for the relocation. House appropriators have already denied this funding.

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