USDA Sends 30-Day Notice to Congress on Planned Relocation of 600 DC Employees

Following recent news that the U.S. Department of Agriculture would be relocating as many as 700 employees across two of its major components, the agency “has initiated the 30-day notice to Congress about its plans to move two bureaus outside the Washington, D.C. area,” according to a Federal News Radio exclusive from Jason Miller.

According to Miller, the USDA’s Deputy Secretary, Steve Censky, “told Economic Research Service (ERS) employees during a town hall meeting on Tuesday that the agency doesn’t need congressional approval to reorganize and a vast majority of the funding for this effort will come from the fiscal 2019 budget.” Censky also reportedly noted that the agency currently has funds set aside for 2018 planning, “which mainly includes hiring a contractor to help choose a new location and plan the move.”

Miller notes Congress’ increased interest in agency reorganizations, which often involve contentious political considerations. Miller points out that “lawmakers specifically highlighted this issue in the 2018 omnibus spending bill. Legislators clearly don’t want agencies to have free will as they included a provision saying agencies cannot simply cut or eliminate a specific program or office unless Congress has authorized the move in an appropriations bill.”

Miller’s details came via an obtained audio recording of a USDA town hall this morning, with Miller noting that the agency “seemed to want to use the town hall to answer questions and alleviate any concerns” from employees at the Economic Research Service (ERS) bureau, one of the two USDA components impacted by the plan. The agency reportedly also held a similar call for the other impacted component, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

In the call, Miller writes that Censky also outlined the process federal employees face when undergoing a relocation:

  • USDA will first give an employee a directed reassignment position notice to report to the new job location at a future date. The employee has 30 days to consider the request.
  • At the same time, Censky said USDA hopes to be able to also give the employee the VERA/VSIP option to consider.
  • If the employee accepts the reassignment, Censky said the employee will have to be at the new location within a certain amount of time, the agency will provide a  relocation stipend and they will have no change in their base pay and benefits, and would receive any locality pay that comes with the new city.
  • If the employee declines the reassignment and doesn’t want to or isn’t eligible for the early out option, USDA will send them a notice of proposed removal from federal service.
  • The employee then has seven days to appeal. The letter of proposed removal also serves as way to receive preference as a displaced employee for other jobs across USDA or in other agencies as long as they are at the same grade level and they employee is qualified.

Posted in From the Hill

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