The entire Kansas congressional delegation and a bipartisan contingent of Missouri lawmakers threw political weight behind a proposal to relocate to the Kansas City area units of the U.S. Department of Agriculture with more than 300 employees each.

The push coincided with site visits this week by USDA to the three shortlist locations, including Indiana and North Carolina, leading to possible selection at the end of May by Secretary Sonny Perdue of new headquarters for the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture now located in Washington, D.C.

In Kansas City, a half-dozen locations straddling both sides of the state line were in contention. It is possible the two USDA entities could be placed in separate office buildings.

"As you continue to evaluate the finalists," the two-state delegation said Tuesday in a letter to Perdue, "we are confident you will find Kansas City to excel in each of the criteria considered by USDA: capital and operating costs, workforce, logistics and quality of life for employees."

In August 2018, Perdue urged communities to apply for an opportunity to serve as headquarters for two USDA agencies and pull down as many as 700 jobs.

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture within USDA awards more than $1 billion annually in competitive grants for research designed to improve sustainability and production of U.S. agriculture. The Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities expressed concern "about the very real potential for" loss of dedicated staff at the grant-making NIFA if relocation was authorized.

Economic Research Services, the USDA's in-house statistical office, is responsible for data relied upon to make policy decisions. The Union of Concerned Scientists asserted relocation of ERS could weaken deliver of analysis on food, rural development, natural resources and agricultural issues.

The message from Missouri and Kansas lawmakers was endorsed by Republican U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, both of Kansas, and Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley, both of Missouri.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Sharice Davids, of Kansas, and Emanuel Cleaver, of Missouri, signed the letter. Other signers were GOP U.S. Reps. Roger Marshall, Ron Estes and Steve Watkins in Kansas and Vicky Hartzler and Sam Graves in Missouri. 

The group referenced the concentration of animal health companies and research in the Animal Health Corridor, a zone running from Kansas State University in Manhattan to the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo. The west side is anchored by the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, or NBAF, under construction near the K-State campus.

An estimated 5,000 USDA employees and contractors already work in the Kansas City area, the letter said.

"Agricultural research is one of the most critical functions of USDA," the Kansas-Missouri letter said. "We must ensure the relocation supports and strengthens the research functions that are essential to the agriculture industry."

In the beginning, 136 potential sites in 35 states were considered. The list was narrowed to greater Kansas City, the research triangle around Raleigh and Durham, N.C., and sites in Indiana. USDA's intent is to move staff to existing buildings by the end of 2019.

"Relocation will help ensure USDA is the most effective, most efficient, and most customer-focused agency in the federal government, allowing us to be closer to our stakeholders and move our resources closer to our customers," Perdue said.