Senate Panel Would Not Block USDA Science Agency Relocations in Spending Bill
Democrats vow to continue to fight to stop the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture from moving to Kansas City later this year.
A Senate subcommittee responsible for funding the Agriculture Department on Tuesday advanced a fiscal 2020 spending bill to the full appropriations committee without endorsing House-passed provisions blocking the relocation of two scientific agencies to Kansas City.
The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies advanced to the full committee a fiscal 2020 agriculture appropriations package totaling $23.1 billion, an increase of $58 million over current year spending.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., ranking member of the subcommittee, said that while he appreciated Republicans’s willingness to reject President Trump’s proposed cuts to a number of research and conservation programs, he was disappointed that lawmakers could not agree to block the Agriculture Department’s plan to relocate the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture to Kansas City later this year.
“I do want to state my opposition to one piece, which is funding for the relocation of NIFA and ERS to a still yet-to-be-named site in Kansas City,” Merkley said. “These two agencies do vital work that is strengthened by their colocation with other key agencies in D.C., facilitating access by researchers and land grant universities across the country who visit D.C. to coordinate and consult with multiple agencies.”
The Agriculture Department’s effort to move the two agencies to Kansas City by the end of September has been a chaotic one. In the face of mass attrition—a count in July suggests that only one-third of NIFA employees would agree to relocate and 40% of ERS workers would move—the department has begun soliciting retired former employees to come back on a part time basis. Last week Agriculture announced that nearly 70 employees across both agencies would see their relocation dates delayed into fiscal 2020.
Additionally, department officials in August told employees who applied for Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments and Voluntary Early Retirement Authority that they would receive a maximum of $10,000, a 60% decrease from the $25,000 originally advertised. Officials said they made the decision to offer a lower amount to all who applied, rather than the maximum to the quickest applicants.
The House has already passed its own version of the appropriations bill, including language to block the department from using fiscal 2020 money to facilitate the relocations. Merkley said he would continue to push for the House’s language to be included in the final bill.
“I look forward to continuing the conversation about the best plan for the location of these two agencies as we go forward in conference negotiations,” he said.
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