Planned move of offices out of DC driving Ag Dept resignations

Two big problems – overstaffing and the out of touch, elitist beltway culture -- are being simultaneously addressed with the announced plan to move two Department of Agriculture offices out of DC and closer to the farms they purportedly serve. Andrew O’Reilly of Fox News reports:

Employees at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are quitting at a rapid clip as Secretary Sonny Perdue prepares to move forward with plans to relocate two offices far outside the Washington, D.C., Beltway.

Federal employees at the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) – two small but important agencies within the USDA – are unhappy with Perdue’s plan, announced last August, to move the majority of their staff from current offices in the capital to an area closer [to] the country’s agricultural centers.

Relocation is a well-established tool in the business world. Move an operation to a different location and you get an opportunity to clear out deadwood and maybe bring in new people unaffected by a problematic corporate culture. A number of my clients during my consulting career used exactly this method to turn around business units, or even corporate headquarters, by uprooting them and in the process sparking resignations from people unwilling to abandon New York (for example) for the wilds of Dallas (for example).

The government worker unions are not happy, of course:

“This move does not serve a public purpose,” Peter Winch, a representative for the American Federation of Government Employees, a union that represents ERS workers, told Fox News. “Employees don’t want to move, and it doesn’t make sense for them to move.”

Winch added that since ERS employees joined AFGE earlier this month, six employees have already quit their jobs with the government agency in response to the planned move. He said overall staffing is down to 209 from 300 during the Obama administration.

I don’t see this as a problem the way a union official collecting dues from fewer people does.

One of the oldest jokes about the federal bureaucracy is the story of a weeping Ag Dept bureaucrat, in an agency with over a hundred thousand employees.

“What’s the matter?” the crying bureaucrat is asked.

“My farmer died,” comes the answer.  

Decentralizing the deferral bureaucracy out of DC would have many advantages by putting the agencies in closer contact with those they serve. It would also address the obscene concentration of wealth in the capital district and lessen the self-absorption of bureaucrats in their own distinctive culture. Because the cost of living is higher in DC than almost anywhere else save a few major coastal cities, the pressure for high federal salaries would be considerably abated.

Opponents of the move have some ammunition:

The USDA’s own inspector general is currently looking into whether Perdue has the legal authority to move these agencies, while the House Appropriations Committee’s draft bill of agricultural appropriations, which was released earlier this week, prohibits the USDA from using funds to move agencies outside of the Washington area. Trump’s 2020 budget proposal wants $15.5 million to relocate ERS and $9.5 million to relocate NIFA.

“We continue to believe that the USDA lacks the legal authority to carry out this proposal,” Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said in a statement earlier this spring.  “However, even if it had such authority, USDA has not done the proper analysis of the cost and benefits, and this proposal will harm agriculture research and our constituents.”

If new legislation is necessary, then the move, and others like it to follow, may have to wait for a new Republican-controlled House of Representatives to be elected, God willing, in 2020. It makes sense in so many ways that it should happen in all the federal agencies. 

Two big problems – overstaffing and the out of touch, elitist beltway culture -- are being simultaneously addressed with the announced plan to move two Department of Agriculture offices out of DC and closer to the farms they purportedly serve. Andrew O’Reilly of Fox News reports:

Employees at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are quitting at a rapid clip as Secretary Sonny Perdue prepares to move forward with plans to relocate two offices far outside the Washington, D.C., Beltway.

Federal employees at the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) – two small but important agencies within the USDA – are unhappy with Perdue’s plan, announced last August, to move the majority of their staff from current offices in the capital to an area closer [to] the country’s agricultural centers.

Relocation is a well-established tool in the business world. Move an operation to a different location and you get an opportunity to clear out deadwood and maybe bring in new people unaffected by a problematic corporate culture. A number of my clients during my consulting career used exactly this method to turn around business units, or even corporate headquarters, by uprooting them and in the process sparking resignations from people unwilling to abandon New York (for example) for the wilds of Dallas (for example).

The government worker unions are not happy, of course:

“This move does not serve a public purpose,” Peter Winch, a representative for the American Federation of Government Employees, a union that represents ERS workers, told Fox News. “Employees don’t want to move, and it doesn’t make sense for them to move.”

Winch added that since ERS employees joined AFGE earlier this month, six employees have already quit their jobs with the government agency in response to the planned move. He said overall staffing is down to 209 from 300 during the Obama administration.

I don’t see this as a problem the way a union official collecting dues from fewer people does.

One of the oldest jokes about the federal bureaucracy is the story of a weeping Ag Dept bureaucrat, in an agency with over a hundred thousand employees.

“What’s the matter?” the crying bureaucrat is asked.

“My farmer died,” comes the answer.  

Decentralizing the deferral bureaucracy out of DC would have many advantages by putting the agencies in closer contact with those they serve. It would also address the obscene concentration of wealth in the capital district and lessen the self-absorption of bureaucrats in their own distinctive culture. Because the cost of living is higher in DC than almost anywhere else save a few major coastal cities, the pressure for high federal salaries would be considerably abated.

Opponents of the move have some ammunition:

The USDA’s own inspector general is currently looking into whether Perdue has the legal authority to move these agencies, while the House Appropriations Committee’s draft bill of agricultural appropriations, which was released earlier this week, prohibits the USDA from using funds to move agencies outside of the Washington area. Trump’s 2020 budget proposal wants $15.5 million to relocate ERS and $9.5 million to relocate NIFA.

“We continue to believe that the USDA lacks the legal authority to carry out this proposal,” Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said in a statement earlier this spring.  “However, even if it had such authority, USDA has not done the proper analysis of the cost and benefits, and this proposal will harm agriculture research and our constituents.”

If new legislation is necessary, then the move, and others like it to follow, may have to wait for a new Republican-controlled House of Representatives to be elected, God willing, in 2020. It makes sense in so many ways that it should happen in all the federal agencies.