USDA staffers quit en masse as Trump administration eyes moving offices out of DC
[FoxNews] Employees at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are quitting at a rapid clip as Secretary Sonny Perdue prepares to move forward with plans to relocate two offices far outside the Washington, D.C., Beltway.

Federal employees at the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) – two small but important agencies within the USDA – are unhappy with Perdue’s plan, announced last August, to move the majority of their staff from current offices in the capital to an area closer the country’s agricultural centers.

“This move does not serve a public purpose,” Peter Winch, a representative for the American Federation of Government Employees, a union that represents ERS workers, told Fox News. “Employees don’t want to move, and it doesn’t make sense for them to move.”

Winch added that since ERS employees joined AFGE earlier this month, six employees have already quit their jobs with the government agency in response to the planned move. He said overall staffing is down to 209 from 300 during the Obama administration.

A Washington Post report cited an estimate that the ERS used to see roughly one “non-retirement” departure per month – but that pace has doubled since October. NIFA reportedly has also seen people leave.

Critics, including former USDA officials, say the move would weaken the agencies, reduce their influence with lawmakers and provide little benefit to the farming community.

Winch argued that weakening the agencies' influence in Washington is at least part of the point. The NIFA funds grants that go into researching the effects the agriculture sector has on climate change – which the Trump administration has tried to downplay – and Perdue was allegedly upset by NIFA’s policy to support LGBT members of the 4-H youth farming organization.

The president’s 2020 budget has also proposed slashing funding to ERS research from $87 million to $61 million and cutting 160 jobs, while Perdue has suggested moving the agency from under the USDA’s science arm to being supervised by the USDA’s chief economist, a political wing of the department.

“There is some sort of punitive motivation,” Winch said. “Someone has made a negative judgment about these agencies.”

Perdue and his staff have narrowed the list of places where the two agencies could go down to three from an original 130 -- with Kansas City, the state of Indiana and North Carolina’s research triangle in the Raleigh-Durham area on the shortlist. St. Louis, Mo., and Madison, Wis., are two alternate locations.

Perdue is expected to make the announcement of where the agencies will move as soon as Friday, but it remains unclear whether the two agencies will actually leave Washington.

Posted by: Bright Pebbles 2019-05-24