Democrats ask appropriators to block funding for USDA move

Democrats ask appropriators to block funding for USDA move
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Thirty-two Democratic lawmakers have signed a letter asking House and Senate appropriators to withhold funds in the 2020 budget that could be used to move the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s two research agencies out of the capital.

“With only a fraction of reassigned employees opting to relocate, we are extremely concerned that moving forward with this relocation will increasingly jeopardize ERS and NIFA’s ability to continue their critical work as well as cause irreparable harm to the federal scientific workforce,” the lawmakers wrote, using abbreviations for the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

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The USDA announced in June it would relocate the two agencies to Kansas City, Mo. The department’s Office of Inspector General has questioned the legality of the decision. 

The move has already had negative effects as employees leave the agencies. ERS was forced to delay or quash research after losing nearly 80 percent of its staff as employees fled rather than relocated. 

The House did not include funding for the move in the USDA spending bill, but the Senate version passed Tuesday did. 

“It is disappointing that this bill supports the administration’s ill-advised relocation of USDA research agencies. I have spoken out about this relocation effort and remain concerned about the loss of expertise and focus such a move precipitates at USDA,” Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyDemocrats introduce bill to reverse Trump's shift of military money toward wall Republicans give Barr vote of confidence Democratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe MORE (D-Vt.) said on the floor. 

According to data from the Office of Personnel Management, 85 percent of federal employees are already located outside the D.C. metro area.

But there has been a push by Republicans to further move agencies outside of D.C., arguing that they should move closer to their stakeholders.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced in July it would move 27 employees to a new headquarters in Grand Junction, Colo., while another nearly 300 would be spread across various existing BLM offices out west. The move would leave just 61 of the agency’s 10,000 employees in Washington. 

On Wednesday, Sens. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyAgencies play catch-up over security concerns with TikTok Typical income no longer covers major costs: Study Senate Democrats introduce legislation to change impeachment trial rules MORE (R-Mo.) and Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnHouse Freedom Caucus chairman endorses Collins's Georgia Senate bid TikTok introduces new parental controls Abortion wars flare up in Congress MORE (R-Tenn.) introduced a bill that would move 10 federal agencies to as many states. 

Niv Elis contributed.