Hundreds of positions remain vacant more than a year after the USDA moved to Kansas City.

When a contract is signed to transfer two USDA agencies To downtown Kansas City in 2019, It was tumultuous as a central victory by local politicians, business leaders, and the administration of then-President Donald Trump.

That meant 500 new high-paying federal jobs For the Kansas City economy claimed by local leaders $ 26 million incentive in 15 years Pledged by the city and state.

Then there was optics: two major parts of the Cabinet agency-Economic Research Services (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) -actually evacuated from Washington for the Midwest, supporters claim. The movements they made will bring them closer to the peasants they serve and it Missouri Governor Mike Parson advertised that he was draining the swamp.

However, it is just over one-third of the institution. Employee agreed to move.. Even now, more than a year later, there are still about 200 jobs left. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has made telecommuting more attractive and cost-effective, and federal workers are demanding long-term location flexibility, failing to meet some of the jobs promised to Kansas City. There is a possibility.

As of the end of March, ERS had 223 employees and 106 vacancies, according to a USDA spokeswoman. NIFA had 218 employees and 126 vacancies. The blanks in the org chart question the long-term future of the two Kansas City institutions. President Joe Biden’s new administration.

When attending the House Expenditure Committee this month, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack acknowledged the need to get the job done. But he hinted that some of the new hires would be in Washington, not Kansas City.

“Active efforts are being made to fill these positions,” Billsack told lawmakers.

“We will monitor it as the President has instructed us to do so, and certainly it is in our greatest interest to have the most diverse and comprehensive workforce possible. “Bilsack said. “And we are confident that we can fill many of those positions. Some of them will be filled in Kansas City and some in the Washington, DC area.”

In January, the USDA reported to Port KC, a local agency that oversees incentives, that there are 334 full-time employees based in Kansas City between the two agencies. This is less than the estimated number of 500 people announced in 2019.

“People still have multiple jobs”

Two agencies bleeding staff in 2019 When the move is announced. Some have entered the private sector. Others have been moved to USDA or elsewhere within other departments of the federal government.

Others have retired.

“They didn’t want to get their stock and leave,” said Daniel Hellerstein, an agricultural economist who chose to retire from the ERS rather than move. “Are you going to ask your wife to give up your job and pull your child out of school?”

Hellerstein is back as a Washington-based part-time employee under a program that allows the USDA to hire recent retirees in emergencies.

The emergency in this case was a shortage of personnel due to the relocation.

“We are not fully staffed, so we cannot reach our full potential. People are still doing multiple jobs and wearing multiple hats,” said an ERS employee. Said Laura Dodson, the representative of one of the few unions allowed to stay in Washington.

According to Dodson, the move’s designer, former Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, overestimated the speed at which authorities could fill positions after the wave of departure.

“There aren’t that many ag economists,” she said.

At a recent town hall meeting with employees from two institutions, Billsack tried to calm the water, Dodson said.

He told them that the department had invested in Kansas City and continued to commit to that location. But he also said he wasn’t sure why government agencies would stop hiring qualified people in Washington, Dodson said.

“What the union still wants is location flexibility,” Dodson said.

Employees of the two institutions have been working from home since last year, whether in Washington or Kansas City. In future contract negotiations, the union will encourage it to be a permanent option.

“I think the pandemic has shown that working in remote areas is feasible,” says Hellerstein. “Last year I went to the office three times.”

By making telecommuting a permanent option, USDA can hire people from all over the country, but Kansas City’s workforce could be much lower than initially expected.

Quinton Lucas, the mayor of Kansas City, one of the many local politicians who supported the move, told the star that he still hopes the USDA will keep its promise.

“Kansas City has made a substantive pledge to the USDA and has invested a great deal of time and resources to bring economic research services and the operation of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to the Midwest and Kansas City,” Lucas said. Stated.

“Midwestern birthplace son Billsack knows how important our region is to the mission of government agencies and that the promised goal of 500 new jobs in Kansas City will be met. I think that there.”

The total annual wages of employees currently in Kansas City are over $ 32 million.

“Kansas City is now already enjoying a positive net profit from its presence, and filling more positions will increase that profit,” said John Stevens, President and CEO of Port KC. The incentives that the USDA receives are related to new numbers. Work in the city.

Tim Cowden, chairman and chief executive officer of the Kansas City Regional Development Council, who helped land the USDA agency in Kansas City, said that many organizations have placed greater emphasis on workplace flexibility since last year. I admitted. However, he said he was confident in the ministry’s long-term presence in the region.

“There is no doubt that the USDA will realize many of the benefits of deciding the location of Kansas City over the next few years,” he said.

Politicians point out a pandemic

Relocation Generally opposed by Democrats in Parliament With two notable exceptions, Kansas Democrat Sharice Davids and Missouri Democrat Emanuel Cleaver have new headquarters for government agencies in the area.

Cleaver blamed the COVID-19 pandemic for the slow pace of filling the vacant seats in Kansas City. As a result, the whole country was closed about 6 months after the move.

“My hope is the eternal existence of the USDA, but I also know that many people refused to come to Kansas City due to the move from the DC metropolitan area,” Cleaver said. “Just when they are preparing to start adopting COVID-19 hits.”

Cleaver said he was still optimistic that universities in Missouri and Kansas could become a pipeline for new hires to government agencies.

Senator Roger Marshall, a member of the Senate Agricultural Commission, also said the pandemic hampered the ability of government agencies to hire new personnel.

“It’s not a Kansas City issue, it’s not a labor shortage. USDA generally has employment rate issues,” Marshall said in an email. “We know that there are some breakdowns between USDA’s business centers trying to handle HR issues, the hiring process, and USDA’s Department of Homeland Security, which takes months after employment to hire new employees. I am. “

Marshall called on Billsack to address the inefficiencies of the hiring process. He said that even if the USDA changes its telecommuting policy, as the union suggests, it should prioritize staffing in Kansas City.

Missouri Republican Senator Roy Blunt said last month that maintaining federal status in Kansas City was one of his top priorities in his last two-year term. He repeated the message when asked about vacancies on Tuesday.

“I hope the former Governor of Iowa understands the benefits of living in the middle of the country and the benefits of being an ag researcher within three hours of being within three hours of six Land-Grant Universities. It’s a great place. It was chosen because it would be a great place, “Brant said, referring to the background of Iowa in Billsack.

“People made decisions in both ways, because that is where those jobs are done, and I continue to encourage Secretary Billsack to move there to carry out those jobs. . “

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