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USDA seeking locations across the U.S. to move 600-plus jobs

WASHINGTON, D.C — Cities and state governments have until Oct. 15 to respond to the USDA seeking information for potential locations for new headquarters for two significant divisions of the department, housed jointly or separately, for up to 700 positions slated to be moved out of Washington, D.C. by the end of 2019.

The USDA published the details in the Federal Register on August 15 alerting interested parties to respond either online or by mail or courier to the agency’s Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary Donald K. Bice. The original deadline was Sept. 14, but was changed last week in response to requests for states to have more time to prepare proposals.

The department announced last month it intends to move 260 employees at the agency’s Economic Research Service (ERS) and 360 at the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The notice said the USDA needs 90,000 square feet for the NIFA headquarters and 70,000 for ERS offices, or 160,000 jointly for a combined headquarters location.

The USDA has told its employees no one will be involuntarily laid off, though most of them will have to relocate to a new city. The department will provide employees with relocation assistance and the same base pay – but workers could face a pay cut if the new locality living rate is lower than what they currently receive.

If approved by the government’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM), employees wishing not to move could be offered early retirement or buyouts. Many of the jobs pay $100,000 or more annually, according to OPM.

“It’s been our goal to make USDA the most effective, efficient and customer-focused department in the entire federal government,” USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said of the reason behind the move.

“We have looked critically at the way we do business, and the ultimate goal of ensuring the best service possible for our customers, and for the taxpayers. This has meant realigning some of our offices and functions, or even relocating them, in order to make more logical sense or provide more streamlined and efficient services.”

As part of the move, the USDA will shift the independent authority of the ERS to the Office of Chief Economist.

Perdue said the decision to move could “better attract talent living in other parts of the country” who, in the past, may have been reluctant to move to the nation’s capital because of traffic conditions and the cost of living in the D.C. area. The move, he added, is also intended to save the agency money on rent and employment costs.

The Request for Expression of Interest was addressed to state and local governments, industry, academia, interested parties and organizations to help in identifying potential sites or locations. The department’s criteria for the new locations should include the proximity to an airport, commuting options for employees, technology infrastructure, capital and operating costs, community and quality of life issues and workforce employment considerations.

“There has been considerable interest in housing the headquarters of NIFA and ERS, expressed by universities and localities from around the country,” Perdue said in extending the deadline to Oct. 15. “Some stakeholders have relayed concerns about staff summer vacation schedules interfering with the preparation of proposals, and some have asked for more time to have their plans approved by boards of regents, city councils or other governing bodies.”

Those desiring further details on requirements or proposals should contact Bice’s office at 202-720-3291.