USDA: Relocations caused significant workforce damage

The Department of Agriculture is a critical piece of the federal government—with over 100,000 employees, and a deep bench of experts whose work has national and international impact.

Like most federal agencies, USDA and just about all of its components are headquartered in the nation’s capital. But—professing aims of saving money, decentralizing the government and other alleged improvements—the last administration relocated two key units 1,000 miles west to Kansas City. Over the last couple of years USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and its Economic Research Service made the long and arduous sojourn.

Now, a news report from National Public Radio tallies up some of the substantial workforce dysfunction—harms broadly predicted by employee unions and personnel experts—that the move inflicted, both in terms of employees who quit or retired early and morale among the remaining workforce.

For example, large numbers of feds have separated from the agencies in direct reaction to the forced move, according to sources quoted in the piece.

Employee departures have been joined by plummeting morale among those who remain, resulting in a massive drop in productivity as evidenced by shrinking numbers of research reports produced in recent years—as well as other troubling landmarks cited by the report’s authors. The report also contains some recommendations on how the incoming administration might ameliorate and even reverse some of the damage.

Reader comments

Thu, Apr 22, 2021 FSRetiree2Be

Y'all are failing to see what was really going on. Between the forced USDA moves and the forced DOI/BLM move, there was only one objective of the last administration: get those pesky agency leaderships, with integrity and pride in their agency's missions, as far away from Congress as possible, so that during budget negotiations those employees can't make the right noise at the right time to head off shady plans and disastrous agency budget cuts. The disastrous effect on morale, the dysfunction, and the resignation of hundreds or thousands of employees out of anger and frustration - well, those were just happy side benefits.

Thu, Apr 22, 2021 Nancy

Thanks for this article and I am grateful to hear someone is finally noticing. I am one more person who feels I have to retire early even though I need to continue to work as a person in my 50's. After 17 years I have learned that USDA caters to an inside group who transcend race and gender and disability and if your not a part of that group, you have no future there. As a white middle aged woman, with advanced schooling and positive management experience prior to joining USDA, advancement has been impossible, with tons of people without any qualifications being placed in supervisory roles. There is such a poor working relationship between the management and the personnel especially among those who have been at headquarters for more than 10 years. If management needs people, they prefer to contract out and will recruit new staff there first, preferably younger people. I think turnover is an unwritten organizational goal versus a shortcoming, so its so unlikely what has been observed will ever be fixed.

Wed, Apr 21, 2021 Edward NCR

Every State receives more than they pay in because half of federal expenditures are borrowed money.

Wed, Apr 21, 2021

The idea the relocation to Middle America is returning the money to the States they give to the Federal government is a bit bogus when you consider they already receive much more Federal money than they contribute. True welfare States already taking more than their fare share. Political hogs eating from the public trough.

Sat, Feb 6, 2021 Still working there VIrginia

USDA Economic Research Service does much more than research on farming. Reflecting the mission of the Department, it covers agricultural exports and global trade, food and nutrition, conservation and natural resource management, food security, climate change, and food supply chain management, and provides economic support to all the agencies in the Department. To say that moving the group to Kansas City puts it closer to its constituents reveals a lack of understanding about the scope of the agency's work. These types of jobs require not only many years of education, but deep knowledge of the industry. When work is disrupted, it hurts the whole country because the questions about the economic effects of decisions go unanswered. It will take years to build the institutional knowledge back up. Taxpayers lose, and those in the food and agriculture industry, or which depend on it, lose.

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