Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., and 31 other Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to appropriators.

Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., and 31 other Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to appropriators. Alex Brandon/AP

More Than 30 Lawmakers Urge Appropriators to Block Funding for USDA Science Agency Relocations

With most employees at the two research agencies declining to move to Kansas City, Democrats in both the House and Senate are urging appropriators to adopt House-passed language prohibiting spending on the move.

Nearly three dozen Democrats in both the House and Senate on Thursday urged appropriators to adopt language in spending bills approved by the House that would block the Agriculture Department from using funds to relocate two science agencies from the Washington, D.C., area to Kansas City.

USDA officials ordered employees at the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to report to temporary office space in Kansas City’s Beacon Center by Sept. 29. But much of the relocation has yet to be implemented, as the General Services Administration has not chosen a permanent location for the science agencies, and many employees’ relocation orders were delayed because of reports that are due between now and December.

The vast majority of staff at ERS and NIFA have elected to leave the federal service rather than uproot and move to Kansas City. Agriculture Department officials have repeatedly said they have an “aggressive” recruitment plan to replace departing employees with new workers in the Kansas City area.

Earlier this year, the House approved spending legislation that would prohibit USDA from using federal funds to implement the relocation. But a spending package currently under debate in the Senate includes $9.5 million to move NIFA and $15.5 million to relocate ERS.

Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., and 31 other Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to the leaders of the Senate and House appropriations committees urging them to reject the Senate’s proposal and adopt the provisions of the House bill.

“As the House and Senate negotiate the final fiscal year 2020 funding bill, we urge you to include provisions from the House-passed Agriculture and Financial Services bills which ensure that no funding may be used to relocate U.S. Department of Agriculture research agencies out of the National Capital Region,” they wrote. “Maintaining these provisions would ensure that the vital research from several USDA scientific agencies remains connected to the National Capital Region and that they are able to maintain mission continuity and delivery of mission-critical work.”

According to the letter, only 16 ERS employees had relocated to Kansas City as of Sept. 30, and only 45 NIFA employees have moved to the new location. As a result, work at both agencies is at risk of delays, or outright cancellation.

“USDA is now delaying the publication of dozens of research reports and, in some cases, will be forced to abandon them completely,” the lawmakers wrote. “There are also reports of NIFA funds remaining unobligated, despite research institutions being notified of their grant approvals. Other reports indicate universities, such as the 1890s Land-Grant Universities, are losing dedicated NIFA staff to assist in the management of federal programs that address current issues facing the agriculture industry as well as issues affecting land-grant universities.”

A final vote on the Senate spending bill is expected next week, after which lawmakers will continue negotiations in conference committee. Agencies have been operating under a stopgap spending measure since the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. The deadline for President Trump to sign spending bills, or another short-term continuing resolution, is Nov. 21.