Top lawmakers from Maryland pledged on Thursday to intensify efforts to block the U.S. Department of Agriculture from moving two agencies from Washington, D.C., to the Midwest.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) called the decision to move USDA’s Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to the Kansas City region “misguided” and without merit.
Van Hollen and Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) have cosponsored the Agriculture Research Integrity Act, which would block USDA from moving the agencies out of the national capital region.
In addition, Cardin has placed a hold on the department’s nominee for chief scientist to “underscore” his concerns.
“The experts at NIFA and ERS need a seat at the table as we work to ensure the food our families eat is safe, but the Trump Administration wants to banish facts and science from policy decisions,” Van Hollen said in a statement.
“I’m offering my legislation to block this move as an amendment to the [National Defense Authorization Act] this week, and I will continue to fight this tooth and nail.”
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said the USDA’s decision to move the two agencies was “wrong,” and would hurt agency performance and morale.
“This relocation will prove to be not only disruptive to the important work being done by both agencies on behalf of the American people, but harmful to the morale of our federal civilian workforce,” Hoyer said in a news release.
“Furthermore, it will have negative consequences for many families in the Fifth District forced to choose between uprooting their lives in Maryland or losing their jobs.”
In announcing the decision to move the two agencies, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the decision will put them in closer proximity to the nation’s farming communities and result in cost savings to taxpayers.
Perdue, a former governor of Georgia, also touted the “easy commutes and extraordinary living for our employees.”
“The Kansas City Region has proven itself to be hub for all things agriculture and is a booming city in America’s heartland,” Perdue said in a statement.
“There is already a significant presence of USDA and federal government employees in the region, including the Kansas City ‘Ag Bank’ Federal Reserve. This agriculture talent pool, in addition to multiple land-grant and research universities within driving distance, provides access to a stable labor force for the future.”
Hoyer was successful in getting language inserted into USDA’s proposed FY 2020 budget prohibiting the agency from using public funds to carry out the move.
An analysis conducted by an outside firm concluded that USDA would save $20 million per year over the next 15 years in reduced labor and office expenses.
Virginia’s U.S. senators have also condemned the relocation, and they are cosponsors of the measure to block it.
Hoyer and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) asked USDA’s Inspector General to investigate Perdue’s decision last year, when plans to leave the nation’s capital were first announced.
The National Institute of Food and Agriculture is located at Waterfront Centre. The Economic Research Service is housed at Patriots Plaza III, both in the District.
According to USDA, 294 of NIFA’s 315 positions will relocate while 21 will stay in the national capital region. Of the 329 positions in the ERS, 253 will relocate while 76 will stay in the Washington, D.C., area.
The Washington Post reported last month that key agency personnel have been leaving “in droves” since news of the relocations first surfaced.