USDA Agencies Brace for Major Hit After Two-Thirds of Employees Refuse Sudden Relocation

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the relocation in 2018, but not to where.
Image: Jacquelyn Martin (AP)

When Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced he planned to pack up two Agriculture Department agencies from their D.C. offices and relocate them to Kansas City, critics warned there’d be fallout. And that brain drain’s extent became all too clear Wedn, the Washington Post reported, as the USDA began preparing hundreds of termination letters for staff who declined the move.

Last year, Perdue revealed plans to host a new site for the Economic Research Service, a statistical agency aimed at anticipating industry trends, and the National Institution of Food And Agriculture, a science funding agency with a $1.7 billion budget from grants. But where exactly that would be remained a mystery until about two months ago. Employees had roughly 30 days to make a decision: lose their jobs, or accept reassignment to the Kansas City region.

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The USDA’s cost-benefit analysis predicts taxpayers will save $300 million over 15 years thanks to the move. But Congress has disputed the department’s authority to even order it in the first place. The move uses funds that, per a 2018 appropriations act, require Congressional approval, and an investigation by the USDA’s Office of the Inspector agreed in a report released earlier this week. The department’s general counsel disputes this requirement, calling it unconstitutional.

A union representing the two agencies understandably requested an extension before forcing staff to decide yay or nay on a 900-mile, cross country move. Staff’s requests to the USDA were ignored, according to the Washington Post, and a new September 30 deadline Perdue reportedly floated quickly dissolved when the department was pressed to confirm it.

In July, the USDA reported that two-thirds of the employees asked to relocate refused to do so. According to mock-ups of the termination notices reviewed by the Washington Post, September 27 will be their last day. Gizmodo reached out to the USDA, and the department did not immediately respond.

Amanda Crump, an agricultural development professor at UC Davis, tweeted about the solemn atmosphere at these two agencies during her visits Thursday. She said many employees were devastated by the news as they weren’t able to relocate their families, especially on such short notice.

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“Some are at that middle age (my age). Too young to retire. Too old and high in the GS scale to find another government job. Been a dedicated public servant for 30 years. Why aren’t they moving? They can’t uproot their families,” Crump tweeted.

While the agencies were understaffed before, this relocation threatens their stability even further. Already, the relocation has put roughly $50 million in NIFA grants on hold, the Washington Post reported. Experts are estimating it’ll take 10 years for the agencies to recover as they continue to lose faculty whose work covers a range of important topics from tackling the opioid crisis to researching ways to rejuvenate the country’s bee population.

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Last week, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney seemed to praise the loss at his keynote speech in South Carolina, relating it back to Republican lawmakers’ promises to “drain the swamp” in D.C. To the GOP’s credit, this relocation definitely seems to be draining something.

[h/t Washington Post]

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About the author

Alyse Stanley

Gizmodo weekend editor. Freelance video game reporter. Full-time disaster bi.