Federal Employees News Digest

Inspector General slams USDA's Kansas City plans

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Inspector General has issued a report finding possible legal violations in the agency’s plan to move key USDA research units to the Kansas City area.

A year ago, in August 2018, USDA management announced a plan to relocate both the agency’s Economic Research Service and its National Institute of Food and Agriculture staff and offices far from Washington, D.C.

More than one location was considered for the new home of these key research units of USDA, and in recent months the Kansas City area—long discussed as the likely selection—became the final choice as the new home for both research arms. According to the agency, this particular Midwestern metropolitan area was chosen for purely practical, non-political reasons: to save taxpayer dollars and to place the researchers closer to the “agricultural heartland” of the country.

Long before the final selection, many in the agency sought and succeeded in unionizing in reaction to the planned move, which was criticized by opponents as both political in motivation and ruinous to many affected employees with deep roots and family obligations concentrated in the national capital region. Union allies have fought the move in court—and with other forms of protest—for example, a phalanx of feds at USDA turned their backs on USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue at an official address about the planned relocation. So far, the protests have perhaps slowed but not stopped management’s plan.

Now, however, the Trump administration and agency brass have hit a new snag. The USDA OIG report—entitled “USDA’s Proposal to Realign and Relocate the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture”—notes that existing federal law requires executive branch agencies to seek and obtain approval from Congress before spending tax dollars to relocate offices and staff.

“The Reorganization Plan No. 2 of 1953 provides the Department with the legal authority to realign ERS under OCE and relocate ERS and NIFA offices,” the report flatly states.

But, the report continues, “there are established limitations on such authorities to realign or relocate offices.” Specifically, the report objects, “the Department has not obtained Congressional approval, as required by Section 717(a) of the Omnibus Act, and has not complied with the reporting deadline requirement in Section 753 of the Omnibus Act.”

The Trump White House’s early response to the OIG report and its clear legal language in support of those opposed to the move has been to state that administration officials believe that the law cited by the OIG is unconstitutional.

 

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Contributors

Edward A. Zurndorfer Certified Financial Planner
Mike Causey Columnist
Tom Fox VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service
Mathew B. Tully Legal Analyst

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