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This Week: USDA Relocation Wreaks Havoc On Small Agencies

October 3, 2019 6:02 p.m.

USDA Relocation Wreaks Havoc On Small Agencies: When we reported last month on the sudden and chaotic relocation of two small USDA agencies from Washington, D.C. to the Kansas City area, we heard from experts employed by the agencies about the impact the relocation — and the mass retirements and resignations it had spurred — was having on government work.

Remember, this is the relocation that Mick Mulvaney bragged was really a way to get rid of government workers.

James MacDonald, a longtime agricultural economist at the USDA’s Economic Research Service, sounded like he was ticking off battlefield casualties as he described his newly departed colleagues in an August phone call with TPM.

What about the agency’s research on genetically engineered seeds?  “I don’t have any of those people anymore, they’re gone,” MacDonald said. “We’re not going to be reporting, we’re not going to be doing research on it.” What about precision agriculture, an “exploding” area of interest? “Basically just about all the people I have associated with doing that are gone.” Soil conservation practices? “We’ve lost all the junior people in that area.”

Now, reports from the Politico, Washington Post and The Hill have documented the brain drain within the agencies. The move has delayed the publication of dozens of reports, including on climate change, nutrition and other areas.

“Staff numbers at both agencies have plummeted by about 75 percent since the relocation,” the Post found. Just 19 out of 280 Economic Research Service employees have opted to move to Kansas City, Politico reported.

A Noah’s Ark of deregulation: We reported last month on the administration’s effort to raise the speed limit in hog processing facilities regulated by the USDA. ProPublica reported this week on a similar effort undertaken for chicken processing just more than a year ago. Rather than formally raise the processing speed limit formally, the administration is instead allowing processing plants to apply for waivers to process 175 chickens per minute, rather than the standard 140.

A year into the new system, ProPublica reports that “most of the 11 plants that received permission to run faster did so despite having a history of serious accidents, including deaths.”

Expensive security details are just a perk of the Trump Cabinet: That was true when EPA administrator Scott Pruitt had a 24/7 detail, for some reason, and it remains true today with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ lavish detail. The U.S. Marshals now estimate her detail will cost more than $26 million over Trump’s first term, Politico first reported.

A crack in the dam: The Interior Department has long resisted a proposal to raise the height of a dam in northern California. But the group proposing it, Westlands Water District, used to be represented by a lobbyist named David Bernhardt — the current Interior secretary.

And now, the proposal that would provide more water to the 1,000-farmer district that Bernhardt used to represent as a lobbyist is moving forward. This despite a lawsuit against the federal government from the state of California, as well as scientific and legal analyses within the Interior Department arguing against the higher dam, the New York Times reports.

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