Moving agricultural research jobs from Washington, D.C., to the middle of the country might make some business sense. But risking the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s hard-earned reputation as the world’s most unbiased repository of scientific assessments makes no sense at all.
When the USDA began considering moving two of its research agencies to Kansas City, senators from both Kansas and Missouri worked together to bring these high-paying jobs out of Washington, D.C., and into the city that straddles the border of both states.
Reports from the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture argue that the move would put those who produce reports on agricultural practices and outcomes closer to the farmers and ranchers who rely on those reports.
Such moves are hardly unprecedented in the corporate world. The business and operational arguments might be legitimate. Why, then, are the two research agencies involved bleeding scientists?
The final decision to make the move was announced in early June. Employees were given until July 15 to accept the transfer to Kansas City or “be separated by adverse action procedures.” Those who choose to go have until Sept. 30 to relocate.
By the first week in June, only 145 workers
had agreed to the move. An estimated 70 percent of employees may refuse. The final location of the agencies had not even been picked when employees were given this short timeline.
The relocation of so many federal workers is nearly unprecedented, and this may not be the last move. The BLM is considering scattering Washington-based jobs to multiple Western locations.
Locating federal workers outside Washington may be a good idea. Kansas City is hardly a Third World country, though people who have spent their lives in the nation’s capital might feel like it is. But the USDA move is markedly disruptive.
All this lends credence to the sense that disruption, especially of science research, is the point.
Both the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture work in climate research. The former reports on the effects of the tariff wars and the lack of benefit to small farmers of the Trump tax cuts. Both research groups have been the subject of deep budget-cut proposals by the Trump administration over the past three years.
The USDA moves reflect either short-sighted incompetence or the administration’s anti-science agenda. Those are the only reasons that doing these moves in this way would make sense.
Being punitive is simply bad policy.