Rep. Wexton Presses Secretary Perdue on Refusal to Accommodate Urgent Extension Requests on USDA Reassignment

July 18, 2019
Press Release
USDA employees report being denied extension requests to accept or decline reassignment despite serious medical and family concerns

Washington, DC – Yesterday, Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) led a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue following reports from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) employees that requests for personal extensions to the July 15th deadline have not been approved or have been left unanswered.

“It is unacceptable that the Secretary has denied or not responded to urgent personal extension requests from USDA employees who are dealing with health concerns and family hardships,” said Congresswoman Wexton. “It is extremely troubling to hear that employees with serious medical conditions and other pressing concerns are being left with uncertainty about their job status. Secretary Perdue is putting his employees in an impossible situation, and the heavy-handed nature of this relocation puts the health and safety of federal workers at risk.”

Wexton’s letter asks the Secretary to respond by July 22nd with information on how many requests for extension the USDA has received, along with how many were approved, denied, or remain outstanding. Additionally, the letter seeks transparency into the process by which requests were reviewed and what, if any, avenues exist for employees to appeal the USDA’s decision.

Monday marked the official deadline set by the USDA for employees of the Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to decide whether they would relocate to the new headquarters in Kansas City by September 30th or lose their jobs. The deadline left employees only thirty-three days to find new housing, new schools for their children, and appropriate accommodations to treat serious health issues.

In May, Congresswoman Wexton, along with the entire National Capital Region Congressional Delegation, sent a letter to Secretary Perdue urging him not to relocate ERS and NIFA. The Congresswoman has also cosponsored an amendment in the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill to block funding from the General Services Administration (GSA) to implement the move. Tuesday, Wexton joined a bicameral effort urging the USDA to extend the decision deadline and commit to utilizing office space and teleworking capabilities for employees to continue working in the National Capital Region until appropriate office space is available in Kansas City.

The letter is signed by U.S. Representatives Donald Beyer (D-VA), Anthony Brown (D-MD), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), and Jamie Raskin (D-MD).

The full text of the letter to Secretary Perdue can be found here and below:

Dear Secretary Perdue:

We write concerning reports from USDA employees affected by the proposed relocation of the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and who have been denied extensions to the July 15th deadline to accept or decline reassignment to the Kansas City Region.

As you are aware, your agency gave its employees just 33 days to decide whether they would relocate out of the Washington D.C. area to the newly selected location of the Kansas City Region. Employees were notified on June 13th that they were required to accept relocation or decline the reassignment by July 15th. Employees declining reassignment and who were not retirement eligible would face consequences up to losing their jobs.

We have heard from numerous federal workers who have requested personal extensions to this July 15th deadline, yet none has been approved. One such extension request would allow a current employee undergoing chemotherapy to continue their treatment with their trusted team of physicians. They now face the unconscionable decision of having to choose between continuing treatment with their physician while potentially losing their job and health insurance benefits or relocate to an entirely new city and attempt to find a team of specialist physicians to provide treatment. Another extension was requested from an employee who is undergoing treatment for multiple sclerosis, which also requires comprehensive care from physicians. These are just two examples of the personal hardship that your decision to accelerate the ERS and NIFA relocation is causing.

To that end, we ask you to answer the following questions by Monday, July 22nd:

  • How many requests for extensions to the July 15th deadline were received by your office?
  • How many requests were approved by your office?
  • How many requests were denied by your office?
  • How many requests are still outstanding?
  • What is the process for reviewing and deciding on extension requests?
  • How many requests for extensions were submitted relating to established care for serious medical conditions?
  • What benefits, if any, are you providing to employees with serious medical conditions and who choose to not accept reassignment?
  • What process do employees have to appeal a decision to deny a request for an extension?
    • What is an employee’s status during this appeal process?

Although we remain strongly opposed to the decision to relocate ERS and NIFA, we ask that you consider the impacts it is having on federal workers, their health, and their families, and that you do all you can to mitigate the extreme hardships now placed upon them. With over 500 federal employees affected by this decision, we thank you for your attention to this matter and we look forward to your response.

Sincerely, 

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