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Matt Shuham

Matt Shuham is a news writer for TPM. He was previously associate editor of The National Memo and managing editor of the Harvard Political Review. He is available by email at mshuham@talkingpointsmemo.com and on Twitter @mattshuham.

Articles by Matt

Move 1,000 miles or get out: In a series of stories this week, we’ve explored the mandatory relocation of hundreds of employees in two agencies housed within the USDA, the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). We were drawn to this story after a member of the the administration slipped up, confessing that the relocation, which will result in both agencies losing scores of expert of economists and researchers, was designed to do just that.

While “it’s nearly impossible to fire a federal worker,” White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said at fundraiser Friday, moving an agency to “the real part of the country” would result in hundreds of fewer people on the department’s payroll. “What a wonderful way to streamline government, and do what we haven’t been able to do for a long time,” he said.

But even before that, the move smelled fishy. Unlike other governmental relocations, which can take years even if they’re only across town, affected employees were given a month to decide whether they would move to Kansas City, and then only a couple more months to prepare. The rapid change posed all sorts of potential problems for employees. For instance, the USDA still hasn’t selected a permanent office, so, for those who chose to move, picking a specific neighborhood to move to is treacherous.

Vince Crawley has worked in communications for several federal agencies, including the State Department and Department of Defense, where relocations are common. He was interviewing for a job at ERS on the same day the relocation proposal was first announced last August.

“The normal moving cycle is, you negotiate and/or are informed of your location for a summer move in the late winter or early spring,” he told me. “Then you start setting up your move to sell your house at the beginning of the real estate season, not the tail end of it. If you have children in school, you want to be able to sort out your school district, things like that.”

“Here, they don’t have a final location,” he said. “They don’t even know what state the organization will be in. You’re asking people to make these levels of decision based on a temporary location in an office park on the edge of Kansas City, Missouri.”

Aside from the obvious concern that suddenly losing hundreds of highly specialized economists and researchers will affect policymakers and farmers dependent on their analyses, employees also raised the possibility that the vacancies would be filled with private consultants. To account for the openings, a USDA higher-up said in July that the department has “a very aggressive hiring plan.”

From land to sea: House Democrats wrote to the Government Accountability Office on Monday to request an investigation into why, nine years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Trump administration is still putting off finalizing a series of regulatory changes proposed in 2015.

“EPA has yet to finalize the updates to the regulations, which were last revised in 1994,” the Democrats wrote. “At a briefing for Energy and Commerce Committee staff on July 23, 2019, leadership from EPA’s Office of Emergency Management reported that the Agency does not intend to finalize these important regulatory updates until 2022, at the earliest.”

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