White House Chief of Staff Claims USDA Move Was Deliberate Attempt to Reduce Agency Workforce

Silencing Science Tracker

White House Chief of Staff Claims USDA Move Was Deliberate Attempt to Reduce Agency Workforce

Following a June 2019 announcement that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would move most of the employees of the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture from Washington D.C. to Kansas City, the AP has reported that the move appears to have involved a deliberate attempt to cut the agency’s workforce. The move, which the USDA claims is being made to reduce costs and bring the agency offices closer to farmers and agribusiness, was announced in June and workers were given only a month to decide whether they would relocate. The option presented to workers was move or be fired, and on August 7 termination notices went out to those who decided not to move.

Despite the stated reasons for the move, comments made by acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney indicate that it was in fact a deliberate attempt to gut the agency’s existing workforce. Mulvaney told a group of Republicans in his home state of South Carolina that relocating offices was “a wonderful way to streamline government” and that while it was “nearly impossible “ to fire federal workers, many will not be willing to move to “the real part of the country.” Following these statements, a USDA spokesman tried to downplay them stating that they were made through a political lens at a political event and that the move will save the agency a significant amount of money, money that can instead be dedicated to the agency’s research efforts.

The agency’s own inspector general’s office concluded that the USDA may have violated federal law by moving forward on the relocation without advancing funding approval from Congress. An estimated 55% of the affected workers have chosen not to move, especially more senior staff members with roots and families in the Washington D.C. area. The Washington Post previously reported that large scale moves of this nature are very rare in the federal government and that based on experience with past, smaller agency moves, the government expected the reassignment take-up to be low. While the USDA claims that it has an aggressive hiring plan to fill the vacancies, experts worry about the loss of knowledge with one stating “You’re losing that expertise you can’t just buy back” and another saying “This is a move to cripple an institution that’s vital to the researchers in the U.S. and ultimately U.S. agriculture.”

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  • Dreighton Rosier says:

    This is a blatant move to circumvent Civil Service employment law. I suspect a class action lawsuit is likely to be brought and taxpayers will see no savings in payroll costs but will be burdened with hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees that are caused by the megalomania of Trump and the toadies he has installed in his administration.

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