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

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.

Thu, Feb 4, 2021 Greg

Moving USDA to middle America where most of the Agriculture is makes a huge amount of sense. It also allows the money given by those states to the federal government to be spent employing people in those areas.

Thu, Feb 4, 2021

Be happy you are a GS 7 where I work most of us are GS 5 or 6 and do for GS 7 grade. Management does not to do the paperwork to up grade us to where we belong. Job announcement came out looking employees in GS 5 and not way to up grade.

Wed, Feb 3, 2021 Sam USA

Without 'skilled, qualified, and knowledgeable employees' the government has nothing of value left. When experienced Qualified workers retire early, or resign any employer and their product suffers the consequences. Filing empty seat with unqualified people who lack the required skills and knowledge accomplishes Nothing and saves no money.

Wed, Feb 3, 2021

Running an Agency should be a lot like running a business. You have to ask yourself what is the cost of producing the needed output. If the cost is too high you have to reduce the cost, in this case moving some groups saved taxpayers money AND can infuse income in areas that are struggling. Such a major move does take time to stabilize. Why should coveted Federal Government Jobs always be in Washington D.C.?

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