The U.S. Department of Agriculture has informed some employees who have declined to transfer out of the D.C. area that their separation pay will be reduced, bringing protests from some members of the region’s Congressional delegation.
U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-MD) have asked the USDA to explain its decision to reduce payments to Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) employees who have declined to relocate to Kansas City following the Trump Administration’s “slapdash decision” to move the two key research agencies out of Washington D.C.
“We are troubled by the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) decision to lower VSIP payments by such a large amount, and we have serious concerns about the timing of this announcement and the burden it places on federal workers who have already endured significant hardship throughout this rushed relocation process,” the Senators wrote.
“This expedited timeline places an undue burden on these employees who were led to believe they would be offered buyouts at or near the federal maximum,” the Senators continued. “USDA has failed to explain why employees were not notified earlier that VSIP offers would be significantly less than $25,000, considering the agency already knew that more than half of ERS and NIFA employees had declined to relocate by the time VSIP applications were due. We are troubled that USDA did not relay this information to its employees sooner considering the impacts this decision can have on an individual’s career.”
On June 13, USDA informed ERS and NIFA employees that only a limited number of Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments (VSIPs) would be available to those who would not be relocating to the Kansas City region.
Then, nearly two months later, employees found that the USDA had reduced their VSIP offers from $25,000 to $10,000, or $15,000 less than what is permitted, and often standard, under federal law. Employees were only given six days to accept this reduced payment, or make the life-altering decision of relocating across the country.
In their letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, the Senators reiterated their opposition to the proposed relocation while demanding that federal employees be treated with dignity and respect should relocation plans move forward. They also asked a series of questions, including how much USDA has budgeted for VSIP payments, why USDA was not prepared to offer the maximum buyout payment to employees, and why employees were not notified that the maximum buyout payment would be less than the federal maximum.
The Senators have been strong opponents of the USDA’s unnecessary relocation of ERS and NIFA. Earlier this year, Sens. Warner, Kaine, Cardin, and Van Hollen introduced legislation to bar the research agencies from leaving the National Capital Region. In May, they joined other members of Congress representing the National Capital Region in urging Secretary Perdue not to relocate the research agencies.
In June, the House passed a measure introduced by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) blocking the move to Kansas City but the amendment has not been taken up by the Senate.