American Federation of Government Employees logo

OPINION The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service is projected to experience catastrophic employee attrition as a result of the short-notice move of three-quarters of all its employees out of the National Capital Region, according to attrition data obtained and compiled by American Federal Government Employees Local 3403 as part of a summary of all employees.

The Economic Research Service could expect more than four out of five 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, Local 3403 estimates that two out of three employees are certain they will decline relocation. The Information Services Division may experience almost 100 percent attrition – no one relocating. The Resource and Rural Economics Division may experience more than 90 percent attrition, with the Food Economics Division experiencing 89 percent attrition. The Market and Trade Economics Division and Office of Administrator could anticipate three out of four employees to decline to relocate.

Including the 76 Economic Research Service employees identified to remain in Washington, D.C., the attrition across the service is projected to be 50 percent to 60 percent. But 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 Economic Research Service 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, (and) food and farm economic and statistical indicators for U.S. agriculture, conservation, and food policy and markets,” said Kevin Hunt, Local 3403 acting vice-president.

The Economic Research Service commodity-outlook program delivers timely, independent and objective information about agricultural markets. It provides projections of U.S. and world agricultural-commodity production, consumption and trade. Those outlook reports are greatly anticipated for U.S. and global markets. Other Economic Research Service 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 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.

Those attrition findings include retirements, employees securing new jobs and employees choosing to be terminated. In addition many employees who may relocate to Kansas City say 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 agricultural research is not irreparably damaged. Rehiring and retraining new employees could take years to achieve and even longer to reach current capacity. The few number of employees relocating to Kansas City highlights that relocation has been poorly incentivized for remaining in civil service.

The American Federation of Government Employees is the largest federal employee union, representing 700,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia. Visit www.afge.org for more information.