USDA Firing Half of Scientists at 2 Research Agencies

Categories: USDA, The Insider

The Trump administration is sending out removal letters to 250 scientists and researchers at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) who have declined short-notice relocation from Washington, D.C. to a not-yet-to-be determined area in the Kansas City region.

USDA Secretary Sonnie Perdue last month announced his decision to relocate most employees of the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to the Kansas City region. He projected that 253 ERS employees and 294 NIFA employees would agree to relocate. In his rosy “ cost benefit analysis,” all 547 positions are expected at the new location by Sept. 30.

Turns out, Perdue was way off. Many talented researchers and scientists have quit since news broke about his misguided relocation plan. For those staying, only 145 accepted the reassignments – 73 at NIFA and 72 at ERS. The final number could be a lot lower as many employees have told our union they are either looking for a new job to avoid relocation or would quit when they get there and have found a new job.

Employees had until July 15 to respond to the reassignments, giving families too brief of a period to uproot and complete their move to an area where some school districts start the year on August 12. To make matters worse, GSA extended the deadline by which they were going to choose a permanent location in Kansas City for new employees, meaning employees will have to find housing and choose schools without knowing the location of their employer and even whether it will be located in Kansas or Missouri.

Major brain drain will hurt grant recipients, farmers, academics

Like Perdue’s dishonest workforce projection, his estimated cost of keeping the workforce in the D.C. area is also outrageously overestimated. Instead of saving money, the relocation of NIFA and ERS from DC to Kansas City will be extremely costly to the American taxpayer.

In addition to the huge direct costs of the relocation, the resulting brain drain will severely damage NIFA and ERS, and it will take years to rebuild the highly specialized workforce at these agencies. Given the extremely low retention rate, the USDA relocation of NIFA and ERS employees to Kansas City is already an embarrassing failure.

Employees care deeply about their work, and constantly ask us why USDA has not informed stakeholders of the impact of a severe loss of staff and not made arrangements for the work of NIFA and ERS to continue during this transition.

It seems inevitable that research grant money will not be awarded, and planned scientific research will not happen, and also that key studies on international trade and international development will not be completed. By law, money earmarked for NIFA grants and ERS studies, if unspent, will return to the Treasury Department and therefore will never be available for scientists and researchers.

USDA still has time to back away from the precipice and reverse this move. AFGE has made proposals to USDA that would make it easier for employees to accept relocation on paper while still being allowed to stay in the D.C. area for a transition period. We urge USDA to consider the public interest and pull back their refusal to agree to those proposals.

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