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POLITICO reports:

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue's surprise announcement last week that the department's National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Economic Research Service would be packing up and moving from D.C. was news to an important group of people - the staff members themselves. Department staff were informed of the plan about an hour before USDA unveiled it to the public.

Perdue said the decision to transfer approximately 260 employees to an undetermined location was made to save money, better retain staff and operate closer to USDA's constituents. But economists inside and outside ERS told POLITICO they are skeptical of the administration's motives and worry that it will eventually lead to their work being overlooked, underfunded and potentially more susceptible to political influence.

"A lot of people feel strongly that the rationale given doesn't make sense and doesn't have much evidence to support it," said an ERS staff member granted anonymity to discuss the move.

Soliciting locations: The plan is already in the works. USDA on Tuesday begun the process of finding a new location for ERS and NIFA, per a notice posted to the federal register. USDA needs a lot of space: About 90,000 square feet for 360 NIFA employees and 70,000 square feet for ERS workers. The department's criteria for the new spots includes proximity to an airport, commuting options for employees, technology infrastructure, capital and operating costs, community/quality of life and workforce considerations.

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