The USDA offered scientists at two key divisions $25,000 buyouts, but after they said yes, the amount was suddenly $10,000.
The Trump administration can't help itself. When given the opportunity to do the right thing, it will always choose otherwise.
This time, it's the Department of Agriculture's turn. When the agency forcibly relocated two divisions to Kansas City earlier this summer, over half the employees balked at being ripped from their families and sent halfway across the country.
There's no question that the move was designed to undermine key scientific divisions — the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture — that research matters such as climate change and food security.
The USDA told employees who refused the move they would receive a $25,000 buyout — the maximum allowable under federal law. Taking a buyout doesn't just mean you give up your job in the federal government. It also bars you from working for the federal government again for at least five years, or you're required to pay back the entire separation amount.
After telling employees choosing to stay behind they'd receive $25,000, the agency engaged in quite the bait-and-switch. Those people who accepted the buyouts received a letter that informed them the buyout amount was now only $10,000 — 60% less than initially promised. Employees can refuse the new, drastically lower amount, but they have to do so by Aug. 26 — less than a week from the date they received the separation letter.
That's a startlingly small window of time for someone to decide whether they're prepared to remain in Washington D.C. with a $10,000 separation and no chance to work for the government again for years or to move over 1,000 miles away.
At first blush, this might seem like the USDA did this to force employees to reconsider their decision and move to Kansas City instead of taking the buyout. However, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney recently bragged that the relocation was designed to get high-quality, high-knowledge federal workers to quit their jobs.
It's far more likely that the drop in buyout pay was undertaken for no reason other than because the agency could. Indeed, the USDA's inspector general already found that the entire move was illegal because they didn't obtain permission from Congress.
Given the administration was happy to break the law just to force scientists out, it isn't all that surprising they'd also renege on a financial promise. After all, it's the Trump administration, and that's just what he does.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.