Skip to comments.Scientists flee USDA as research agencies move to Kansas City area
Posted on 07/15/2019 5:11:03 PM PDT by yesthatjallen
A Trump administration decision to move researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to the Kansas City area is threatening to spark the flight of more than half of the staff selected to move, gutting the agency of its top scientific voices.
Staff have until midnight Monday to decide whether to uproot and join the department as it moves its research branches from Washington, D.C., lured by $26 million in promised incentives from state and local officials.
Critics see the move, set to be completed by Sept. 30, as yet another example of the Trump administration looking to sideline scientists and researchers, keeping them away from the corridors of power. Administration officials deny that, calling it a cost-saving move intended to have researchers closer to farmers.
The decision comes as other agencies are also planning to relocate parts of their teams amid suspicions about the move. For example, the Interior Department is expected to announce Tuesday a new headquarters for the Bureau of Land Management.
Moving these researchers out of Washington puts them out of earshot from policymakers. A lot of the research that scientists and economists do at [USDA] has policy implications and members of Congress need this information and need to have face-to-face meetings with these researchers, Rebecca Boehm, with the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Hill.
It keeps science out of the policymaking process. And weve seen many times that this administration doesnt like facts or research that isnt convenient or [is] an impediment to their agenda, so I think moving them away helps accomplish that, she added.
The move affects two wings of the USDA. Economic Research Service (ERS) employees analyze the agricultural market, but their research is much broader, including looking at food stamps, rural poverty and conservation.
National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) employees work with universities to fund research and coordinate the process that issues research grants on agriculture-related subjects, including climate change adaptation.
The two agencies voted to unionize in response to the move, as Democrats in both chambers and a number of groups that regularly work with the two agencies lobby to keep them in Washington.
Estimates tallied by employees show 70 percent of ERS employees designated for the Kansas City office will not be moving. For NIFA, 45 percent of those surveyed say they will not move. Overall, the move was expected to impact 547 staff between the two agencies.
But the numbers of staff refusing to move may grow: Some employees said staff at both agencies are trying not to tip their hand, saying they will move only if they do not find another job in the D.C. area.
So far, just 27 ERS staff out of 250 have committed to moving to Kansas City, according to the employee tallies.
The UDSA argues the move will save $300 million over 15 years, but critics have said their cost-benefit analysis was shoddy and did not follow guidelines.
A different cost-benefit analysis from the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association found the move would cost taxpayers between $83 million and $182 million.
Democrats have blocked USDA funding from supporting the move and asked the agency to turn over information about its decisionmaking process, and they have sponsored legislation to keep the two agencies in Washington.
I am appalled with the Trump administrations decision to force hundreds of Washington-based USDA research staffers to uproot their lives to Kansas City in order to keep their livelihoods, Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), who sponsored the legislation, said in a statement when the move was announced.
Many of these staffers believe their relocation is an effort to silence their research into topics that do not align with the Trump administrations political agenda, including the study of climate change and benefits of low-income food assistance, she added.
Employees had a list of complaints about a move they have likened to Amazons search for a second headquarters, as the USDA examined bids from 139 cities.
That process was put on pause during the government shutdown, but on June 16 employees were told they had a month to decide whether theyd like to move to the Kansas City area or leave the agency.
Employees would then have two months to move to Kansas City they must be there by the end of the fiscal year but school in the area is slated to start Aug. 12, putting added pressure on those with families to quickly make a move.
Employees say they are getting conflicting information about how much of their moving costs will be covered by the government. Other key details about the move are also unknown so far, according to the employees.
The USDA said it was working to make the move as smooth as possible but did not respond to several specific questions about the move from The Hill.
USDA has determinedly worked to ensure employees have the resources they need to make informed decisions about their employment and to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible, the agency said in a statement.
Employees say morale is at an all-time low and they worry about the future of an agency that is already hemorrhaging staff and having trouble completing its work.
Honestly, Im not sure how were going to bounce back, or if we will, said Laura Dodson, an agricultural economist with ERS who is now a union steward. This agency is the product of like 50 years of institutional knowledge and gathering up researchers who are very specialized in their fields.
Employees also say there are contradictions between what USDA says it hopes to achieve with the move and how it would actually impact the department.
It was sort of get fired or go, said Ariela Zycherman, a national program leader with NIFA who is still weighing a move to Kansas City.
People keep saying, Those East Coasters dont want to come to Kansas or Missouri. The fact of matter is thats not really the issue, she said. Many of us would move to Kansas City, but there are questions about future of agency and its effectiveness and questions about the way this was hastily rolled out and whether it will have long-term effects on our families well-being.
USDA has argued the move will allow employees to be closer to farmers something employees say shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what they do.
I think the biggest misconception around this is, we dont serve individual farmers, Dodson said. Our stakeholders are primarily Congress and program leads and agencies and nonprofits in D.C. or people that come to meet with multiple entities in D.C.
I think our presence will be very much diminished. I think well be quite literally out of sight and out of mind.
The bipartisan Kansas and Missouri delegation pushed hard to bring the offices to Kansas City, calling it a hub for research and a talented workforce and touting the lower cost compared with Washington, D.C.
But employees say the hectic way the move has been handled has soured many about the USDA.
Ive never experienced morale like this in any job, said Wesley Dean, a national program leader in sociology for NIFA. My colleagues are deeply committed to the mission of the agency, and see their positions as an opportunity to both shape the future of their scientific disciplines, and to serve the American people.
These highly motivated civil servants feel as if their expertise and dedication to the agency and the public has been undermined and dismissed by the department.
SEE; the Soviets knew ahead of time that the Swamp Creatures would win their war for them without a shot fired!
Sorry folks, but no one guaranteed you a job for life. You serve at the pleasure of the President, remember?
Report to your new boss, Hank Kimball, at the COOP Monday morning. Dress casual. Pack a lunch and bring your own flyswatter, you'll need it...
Enough of the sitcom humor, let's get real here. KC may not be inside the beltway, but it's not Hooterville, either. They've got electricity and everything! I live in Kansas and we don't appreciate being treated like some kind of backwater hayseeds. We're among the people you are supposed to be serving, remember?
Won't be happy here, huh? Well, that goes both ways - we don't want to pay a bunch of east-coast prima donna beurocrats to rule over us. Why don't you make it easy on all of us and JUST QUIT? We'll get along just fine without you.
Actually what they are worried about is that they will not have clandestine lunches and dinners, (paid by politicians and special interest groups), where they plot how to write reports that will allow the special interest groups to sue them in order to settle on the course of action that the special interest groups, and politicians, wanted.
It doesn’t matter what the current administration wants, these bureaucrats answer to the special interest and the Dem politicians.
Moving them out of D.C. makes the strategy meetings with the special interest groups and politicians harder to do under the radar because they will be easily seen in a smaller city with more conservative values. The politicians will need to file the travel/hotel vouchers for a trip to K.C. and having secret meetings will be almost impossible.
We moved 13 times in 22 years in the Air Force, cry me a river.
No one is being forced. If they are worth what they are being paid, then someone else will hire them if they decide not to move. But if they're not, then they have a problem. The government is typically quite generous with relocation benefits, and some who have been vegetating there for years will be eligible for early retirements.
I’m sure Kansas City doesn’t want those _____s, either.
Not necessarily. They would keep their GS levels, but they are getting "locality pay" adjustments in the DC area because it's a high-cost area. Those adjustments would most almost certainly be lower once they move.
“would almost certainly be lower”
In the article, It is well stated. Their clients are not farmers. They are politicians.
Dittos, midwestern universities could replace every one of these bozos in an hour, and do more research and less politicking.
I think the big issue is jobs for spouses. Many of them likely have their own careers. If the other spouse stays in DC they have the added expense of 2 households plus commutes, etc..
DENVER (AP) - Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner says the Trump administration is moving the headquarters of the federal government's largest land agency to western Colorado.
Gardner said Monday the Bureau of Land Management's Washington office will move to Grand Junction.
Gardner didn't say when the headquarters would move. A Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman in Washington said she couldn't confirm or deny the move. She declined to give her name.
Hmmm...headscratcher...be closer to those you are supposed to be serving??? Makes no sense...
In the article, It is well stated. Their clients are not farmers. They are politicians.
...I was sarcastic
surprised they haven’t shopped an obama judge to play Junior Executive Branch mini-president yet to veto this.
Betcha they weren’t particularly upset when many military bases were closed or downsized a few years ago impacting far more people. But now that they themselves are affected, they are freaking out.
Boo f’n hoo.
How many times did you do it on three months notice with the government not paying for cost of the move?
Culling out the dead wood
yeah - way more important to be face-to-face with your handlers than where the work is supposed to be done....electronic data can be found and seen like clandestine meetings can be kept secret....
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