The idea to move two federal research agencies from Washington, D.C., to the Kansas City area is a good one.
But the plan being used by U.S. Department of Agriculture leaders to turn the idea into reality is seriously flawed, raising the risk that the move will be a huge failure.
The Trump administration in June announced it would move the USDA Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to new offices in the Kansas City area.
Officials in that city won some sort of competition that also included finalists in Indiana and North Carolina.
No clear accounting exists of what financial incentives were demanded, offered or agreed upon. The Kansas City Business Journal reports that Kansas and Missouri leaders offered at least $26 million in incentives. It is not known where that money is coming from, or if that’s a grand total, or whether the federal government must meet any job or economic metrics to get the money.
So the deal is suspect just on the lack of transparency.
Another big minus is timing.
The USDA demanded that its staff members decide within a month whether they will make the move. And they must move no later than Sept. 30, although it’s not clear where they will be moving to.
The USDA has not announced where in the Kansas City area the offices will be.
For families looking to relocate, that sort of information is vital as they look for new homes, new schools, new day care and so on. Given the size of the Kansas City area, employees who relocate don’t know whether the new home they choose would be within 80 miles of the new USDA offices.
The short deadline also leaves families with a working spouse in a lurch, as well as families who are caring for elderly relatives.
The Washington Post reports, 99 of the 171 employees at the Economic Research Service won’t move, and at the NIFA, 151 of 224 staff decided not to relocate.
This rushed, poorly planned, questionably financed move likely means that needed research won’t get done, because of staff shortages and disruptions associated with the move.
Perhaps that was the point. Or perhaps the point was for President Donald Trump to use federal jobs to buy support in Missouri and Kansas, not only from voters, but also from the states’ members of Congress.
The arguments for moving government out of the Washington, D.C., area are strong.
The cost of living and the cost of doing business in Washington, D.C., are significantly higher than national averages. By moving offices elsewhere in the United States, taxpayers can see their money used more efficiently. And federal workers will find housing more affordable.
Moving USDA facilities to locations with strong agricultural ties makes sense.
Many Trump supporters also think that relocating government offices will lead to smaller government. It’s likely that the opposite will be true. It’s hard to point to any endeavor — business or government — that has expanded geographically while shrinking its total size.
As the federal government becomes a bigger employer and economic force in more communities and states, the political reasons for protecting jobs and agencies will grow. And, likely, so will the size of government.
A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist across Kansas.