Hundreds of Employees at Department of Agriculture Face Relocation

This week, hundreds of employees at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) were notified that the agency would be relocating two of its components to new locations outside Washington, D.C., while a third component would be relocated to D.C. proper.

The two components being moved outside D.C. are the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and portions of the Economic Research Service (ERS). The final destinations of those relocated employees has not yet been established. Meanwhile, other parts of the same Economic Research Service office will be brought into D.C.

According to Government Executive, “the changes will affect most of the 700 employees at the research service” and NIFA, though USDA has “vowed not to involuntarily separate any employee,” with the department prepared to “provide relocation assistance and the same base pay to affected workers, though employees could receive a pay cut if the new locality rate is lower than what they currently receive.”

Notably, the D.C. area tends to have among the highest locality pay rates in the country, with only San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, and New York City typically competing or surpassing the region.

USDA is also reportedly planning to compensate those employees who opt not to relocate, with the agency “requesting authority from the Office of Personnel Management to offer early retirement or buyouts to those opting not to take a job in the new location.”

The move is not without political contention. As explained by GovExec, “in addition to relocating, the Economic Research Service will move to the Office of the Chief Economist within the secretary’s office. The two separated in 1994 as part of USDA reorganization. The research service engages in more general analysis of trends and emerging issues, while the Office of the Chief Economist directly reports to the secretary to investigate the economic impacts of the department’s policies and programs,” with the decision causing some experts to suggest ulterior motives.

GovExec cites Ricardo Salvador of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who suggested the 1994 reorganization “was designed specifically to use the USDA’s chief scientist as a ‘firewall’ against political influence” and that removing that barrier would mean some employees would be less willing to share some research with a political superior. Salvador “also noted that political influence over ERS’ predecessor is what led Congress to create the separate agency in 1961.”

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