An agreement has been reached to soften the impact of the relocation of two Agriculture Department subagencies, a reorganization that is turning into a test case for the administration’s broader plans for agency reorganizations.
USDA’s Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture are set to move most of their employees from the Washington, D.C. area to the Kansas City area as of September 30. However, given a July 15 deadline to decide whether to relocate, about two-thirds of the several hundred affected employees said they will quit or retire instead, and some already have received separation notices.
The agreement between the department and the AFGE union gives employees until September 27 to make a final decision on relocating; allows those who agree to relocate to work remotely through the end of the year; and provides a relocation incentive payment of a month’s salary.
The union said it would continue to oppose the moves, however, and an important test could come soon after Congress reconvenes September 9 from its summer recess. Spending authority for all federal agencies will need to be renewed for the new fiscal year starting October 1 and the House already has passed language designed to block the moves. The department’s IG recently concluded that language already in place prevents the department from doing what it already has done, an interpretation that management rejected.
Meanwhile, comments from OMB director/acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney presenting the attrition as a positive and calling the moves a “wonderful way” to reduce federal employment have further deepened skepticism on Capitol Hill about the administration’s agency reorganization plans in general.
The administration previously had justified the USDA moves on grounds of efficiency and moving employees closer to the people they serve. It has made both arguments in favor of a planned reorganization at Interior while making the efficiency argument in favor of sending its operations to GSA and its policy function to OMB. The House similarly already has passed budgetary language designed to block both of those moves as part of appropriations bills for the new budget year.