USDA Slashes Buyouts For Experts Leaving Agency Over Kansas City Relocation

UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 16: Department of Agriculture sign in Washington, DC (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
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August 20, 2019 3:22 p.m.

The USDA is slashing buyout payments for economists and researchers at two small agencies who are leaving their jobs after the Department announced that their positions were being moved to Kansas City.

In a document first flagged by Vice News’ Morgan Baskin, the USDA said it was cutting the payment from $25,000 to $10,000 “due to the volume of applications” it had received for voluntary separation. The union representing affected employees confirmed to TPM Tuesday that buyout payments were being reduced.

According to the document, the USDA is giving employees until Monday to decide whether they will take the money, known as a “Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment,” with the stipulation that they will forfeit the full pre-tax amount if they return to federal service within five years.

“It’s hard to imagine USDA management finding more ways to demoralize the workers at these two agencies, yet they continue to top themselves at every turn,” American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. said in a statement.

In June, the USDA announced that hundreds of affected employees from the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), two small agencies providing economic and research expertise, would be relocated to the Kansas City region by Sept. 30.

According to a memo to ERS staffers at the time, and which the union shared with TPM Tuesday, the USDA initially said the payments would be offered on a first-come-first-served basis.

“In keeping consistent with the Secretary’s commitment to ‘Do Right’ by our employees, the Department’s priority was to offer a standard VSIP to every eligible employee who applied, instead of on a first come first serve basis,” a department spokesperson told TPM in a statement Tuesday.

Employees were initially given a month to decide whether they would make the move. That timeline was later relaxed somewhat after negotiations between the agency and AFGE.

More than half of affected ERS and NIFA employees have indicated they won’t relocate. At a recent Republican Party fundraiser, White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney implied that that was by design.

“What a wonderful way to streamline government,” he said.

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