The USDA inspector general found the agency violated the law when it moved two scientific divisions to Kansas City.
The forced relocation of two scientific divisions within the Department of Agriculture might have been illegal. And Trump's acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney might have let the real reason slip as to why the administration undertook the move.
In June, Secretary of the Department of Agriculture Sonny Perdue told employees in the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) they were being moved from Washington, D.C., to Kansas City, Missouri. Ostensibly, the move was to save money and move those divisions closer to the people they serve.
However, the USDA broke the law with this plan. The USDA's inspector general (IG) said that the moves violate a law from 2018. That law prohibited the USDA from undertaking reorganization moves without getting prior approval from appropriations committees in Congress. The law specifically told the USDA they couldn't spend any money on a move that "relocates an office or employees."
But that's exactly what the USDA did when they signed a $340,000 contract to review headquarters locations in the Kansas City area. Despite spending that money, they didn't find a spot before the first wave of employee relocations in late July. They're putting those employees in temporary spaces in an existing USDA building in Missouri.
In typical fashion, rather than follow the laws that govern it, the USDA declared the law requiring them to get committee approval is unconstitutional, and that if the secretary initiates the move, everything is legal.
Though the stated reason for the move was cost-saving and the Trump's parochial insistence that high-level scientists have to live in the breadbasket to perform research related to agriculture, Mick Mulvaney recently revealed what it is actually about: getting rid of federal employees.
At a Republican event last week, Mulvaney bragged that relocations are a "wonderful" way to get rid of federal employees and "streamline federal government." In this instance, it worked. More than half of the scientists in ERS and NIFA declined to move. According to Mulvaney, this is because they didn't want to move "outside the bubble, outside the Beltway, outside this liberal haven" and "into the real part of the country."
It could also just be that, like employees everywhere, they didn't want to uproot their families and move away from their homes.
The ERS/NIFA move is also part of the administration's administration's war on science. Both of those divisions work on things the administration doesn't like. NIFA has contradicted Trump on trade policies, and ERS does climate change research.
This isn't the only government agency that's being broken up. By next year, 84% of D.C. headquarters staff at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will be scattered across several Western states, including Colorado, Nevada, Idaho, and Montana.
The administration hates government workers, hates science, and hates D.C. Unfortunately, that means moves like this, which hollow out government agencies and deprive them of their ability to do their jobs — will get much more common.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.