Rep. Wexton Blasts USDA Issuance of Termination Letters
Washington, DC, August 7, 2019
Today, Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton decried the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) decision to begin issuing termination letters to employees who declined to relocate to Kansas City, Missouri by September 30th--including at least some who made extension requests that were left unanswered. Notably, Congresswoman Wexton wrote to Secretary Sonny Perdue on July 17, requesting further information and transparency on what appeared to be a failure to approve any requests for an extension made by USDA employees, regardless of serious medical or family concerns.
“On July 17, I wrote to the Secretary requesting key details and basic transparency into why urgent requests for extension were not responded to,” said Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton. “Nearly one month later, the Secretary still hasn’t responded to my letter or answered important questions, and the Department has failed to respond to the employees who made requests for extension--yet they are able to issue termination letters to hundreds of dedicated public servants.”
“This week’s report by the USDA’s Office of Inspector General affirms that Secretary Perdue cannot relocate either the National Institute of Food and Agriculture or the Economic Research Service without budgetary approval from Congress. Secretary Perdue is ignoring his own Inspector General, he is ignoring Congress, and he is ignoring many of the farmers he supposedly serves. This relocation needs to be halted immediately.”
Wexton’s letter asked the Secretary to respond by July 22 with information on how many requests for extension the USDA has received, along with how many were approved, denied, or remained outstanding. Additionally, the letter sought transparency into the process by which requests were reviewed and what, if any, avenues existed for employees to appeal the USDA’s decision.
Employees of the Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) were given just 33 days to decide by July 15 of this year whether they would uproot their lives to Kansas City by September 30 or lose their jobs. The deadline left employees only 33 days to find new housing, new schools for their children (the first day of classes for Kansas City Public Schools is August 12th), and appropriate accommodations to treat serious health issues.
On Monday, the USDA Office of Inspector General released a report that concluded that the USDA did not have the authority to relocate ERS and NIFA without budgetary approval by Congress, calling into question the legality of the move.
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. Last month, 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.