Legislation Aims to Prevent Repeat of USDA’s Relocation Debacle

Statement by Rebecca Boehm, Economist, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Jul 2, 2020

WASHINGTON (July 2, 2020)—The COST of Relocations Act introduced yesterday by Virginia Rep. Jennifer Wexton and Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen would require federal agencies to conduct and make public an objective cost-benefit analysis for any relocation proposal. The legislation comes a year after Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s decision to relocate two research agencies in his department from Washington, D.C., to Kansas City, Missouri.

To date, 75 percent of the employees of the two relocated U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) agencies have left their posts, leading to a severe “brain drain” and delaying the completion of dozens of studies on a range of issues, including the opioid epidemic, veterans’ food security and international trade markets. The disruptions also have delayed grants from reaching university researchers studying climate change impacts on agriculture and food markets.

The new legislation would require agencies to thoroughly consider the full cost of a proposed relocation, including costs of real estate, staffing, employee attrition and the short- and long-term impacts on the agency’s ability to carry out its mission.

Below is a statement by Rebecca Boehm, an economist in the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“The damage these relocations have done to USDA’s capacity to fulfill its science mission is clear. Secretary Perdue never articulated any specific, credible reasons for how the relocation would benefit farmers or the public at large. It’s hard to conclude that moving the agencies to Kansas City was anything but a thinly veiled political attempt to dismantle critical USDA research this administration doesn’t like.

“Federal agencies should have to weigh all costs and benefits of a proposed relocation to ensure public dollars are spent wisely. If enacted, the COST Act would ensure that the work of federal agencies, which has never been more important to protect public health, safety and economic well-being, is not unjustifiably disrupted and damaged as a result of a relocation.

“The public deserves a transparent and accountable federal government. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for the kind of chaos the USDA’s unnecessary and poorly executed relocation caused.”