In what could be a sign of more to come across the government, the Agriculture Department has announced plans to move two components involving about 700 employees out of the national capital area.
The USDA says it plans to move by the end of 2019 most employees of the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, while organizationally making the former a direct-report to the secretary. “New locations have yet to be determined, and it is possible that ERS and NIFA may be co-located when their new homes are found,” the announcement said.
Among the reasons cited were the potential for “significant savings on employment costs and rent, which will allow more employees to be retained in the long run, even in the face of tightening budgets”; the difficulty of attracting and retaining employees in the high-cost Washington, D.C. area; and putting the offices “closer to many of stakeholders, most of whom live and work far from” the capital area. It said that all employees will be offered the opportunity to move and that the department has asked OPM for early retirement and buyout authority.
The Trump administration has repeatedly suggested taking such steps, although the early attention focused on the Interior Department, where appointees have made similar arguments that employees dealing with public lands and other resources should be closer to the areas most impacted by their work. Interest groups and some in Congress have argued that such moves will weaken the agencies and that that is an underlying intent.
The USDA already has reorganized a number of offices although those have not involved physical moves.