Most ERS Employees Likely to Decline Relocation

Categories: The Insider

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS) could expect most of its 200 employees to decline relocation, raising concerns about brain drain and the agency’s ability to fulfill its mission and serve the American people. Evidence suggests that the relocation of ERS is the Trump administration’s attempt to hollow out and dismantle USDA science that helps farmers and protects our food supply.

ERS is projected to experience catastrophic employee attrition as a result of the short-notice move of three-quarters of all ERS employees out of the National Capital Region. According to attrition data obtained and compiled by AFGE Local 3403 as part of a survey of all employees, ERS could expect more than 4 out of 5 of the more than 200 employees being reassigned to temporary offices in Kansas City to decline relocation.

Given the aggressive timeline to move all positions before the end of the current fiscal year, AFGE Local 3403 estimates that 2 out of 3 employees are certain they will decline relocation. Attrition data is listed by research divisions below.

  • The Information Services Division may experience nearly 100% attrition or no one relocating.
  • The Resource & Rural Economics Division may experience more than 90% attrition, with the Food Economics Division experiencing 89% attrition.
  • The Market and Trade Economics Division and Office of Administrator could anticipate 3 out of 4 employees to decline to relocate.

Including the 76 ERS employees identified to remain in Washington, D.C., the attrition across ERS is projected to be 50-60%. However, many of those remaining in D.C. also say they are seeking new employment because they are scheduled to be reassigned to a yet-to-be identified new facility within the National Capital Region.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced June 13 that 250 ERS employees are among the more than 550 USDA research employees scheduled to move to Kansas City on or before Sept. 30.

“The current and projected attrition will curtail research data products that encompass commodity estimates, agricultural sector forecasts, food and farm economic and statistical indicators for U.S. agriculture, conservation, and food policy and markets,” Local 3403 Acting Vice President Kevin Hunt said.

For example, the ERS commodity outlook program delivers timely, independent, and objective information about agricultural markets and provides projections of U.S. and world agricultural commodity production, consumption, and trade. These outlook reports are highly anticipated for U.S. and global markets.

Other ERS data products include forecasts of farm business and household income, commodity cost of production, outlook reports covering major crops and livestock products, annual 10-year projections for the farm sector, forecasts of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for food, estimates of U.S. and international agricultural productivity, rural county typologies, state fact sheets, annual reports on food security of U.S. households, the Food Access Research Atlas, the Food Environment Atlas, and Cost Estimates of Foodborne Illnesses.

These attrition findings include retirements, employees securing new jobs, and employees choosing to be terminated. In addition, many employees who may relocate to Kansas City tell AFGE Local 3403 that they may only relocate short term until they find employment in their preferred localities.

Congress needs to provide oversight on the relocation immediately to ensure critical agriculture research is not irreparably damaged. Rehiring and retraining new employees could take years to achieve and even longer to reach current capacity. The low number of employees relocating to Kansas City highlights that relocation has been poorly incentivized for remaining in civil service.

 


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