The Kansas City metro area is among three sites still in the hunt to become the next location for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's research arms.
The other two sites are the Research Triangle Park region near Raleigh, North Carolina, and places in Indiana (likely near Purdue University), according to a Friday news release from Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. He said Madison, Wisconsin, and St. Louis, Missouri, are still under consideration, but not among the top three.
Relocating the Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) out of Washington, D.C., is a priority for Perdue, who says it'll help the federal government save money and "move our resources" closer to customers. But the move, which has been in the works since last summer, has been roundly criticized by researchers and farm groups.
Hundreds of university researchers from across the U.S. signed a letter saying they fear moving ERS and NIFA employees would make it harder for the departments to share science and research to influence policy.
Beyond that, some think there'd be a loss of institutional knowledge as employees quit, rather than relocate, though the USDA has said this could be an opportunity to “attract and attain highly qualified staff” in those new locations.
Critics also have noted moving the agencies out of Washington corresponds with a proposed White House budget that would slash spending . It’s also part of a reorganization plan that would narrow the scope of research and put ERS and NIFA under direct control of the ag secretary, who is appointed by the president.
More than 136 groups from 35 states submitted their interest to the USDA.
The congressional delegations from Kansas and Missouri went in on it together.
GOP Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas said Friday afternoon touted the Kansas City metro's concentration of "premier universities, research institutions, agricultural companies, and industry producer groups" as the main reason why ERS and NIFA should be moved there.
He also mentioned the area's animal health corridor, as well as the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, which is about 2 hours west of Kansas City in Manhattan, Kansas.
“The concentration of animal health companies and location of NBAF will not only complement the research capabilities of NIFA and ERS, but have also fostered a talented workforce that will help meet the personnel needs of USDA," Moran said.
It isn't clear when the final decision will be announced. The USDA previously said it wants ERS and NIFA employees in the new location by the end of this year.
Harvest reporter Madelyn Beck contributed to this story.
Frank Morris is a national correspondent at KCUR and contributor to Harvest Public Media. Reach him on Twitter @franknewsman.
Erica Hunzinger is the editor of Harvest Public Media. Follow her on Twitter: @ehunzinger