Government employees turned their backs on Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue during a meeting Thursday as a silent protest over the decision to relocate the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
The ERS and NIFA are currently located in Washington, D.C., and are research agencies within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA plans to move the agencies, including their 550 research jobs, to Kansas City, in a move to save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, according to CNN.
Many of the employees, however, feel that the change is due to politics and only serves as a platform to interrupt climate research. Perdue announced the decision Thursday morning after both agencies previously voted to unionize in order to stop the move.
ERS and NIFA employees continued to disagree with the decision and showed this by silently turning their backs on Perdue during Thursday’s meeting where he discussed the decision. He didn’t take any questions from employees afterwards, CNN reported. (RELATED: Hundreds Of Federal Employees Will Be Moved Out Of DC)
We picked Kansas City for the new location of @USDA_ERS & @USDA_NIFA. KC helps us move closer to our stakeholders & redirects taxpayer savings into funding for research of critical needs like rural prosperity and agricultural competitiveness. More HERE: https://t.co/i5r7ZtUysN pic.twitter.com/4oRuMMekt3
— Sec. Sonny Perdue (@SecretarySonny) June 13, 2019
“I want you all to know that this decision was not entered into lightly,” Perdue wrote in a letter to the agencies’ employees. “And having recently undergone a major relocation of my own, I understand that this decision creates personal disruption for some of our colleagues and their families.”
Acting vice president of the ERS Union, Kevin Hunt, said moving was “cold-hearted,” CNN reported. Some House Democrats and members of Congress have also been against the move. The inspector general for the USDA is investigating to see whether the decision to move the two agencies is legally allowed.
“Secretary Perdue continually speaks of transparency and communicating to employees but has failed on both fronts,” Hunt said according to CNN.
Perdue told reporters Thursday that “Congress can do what Congress does, and we will respect that.” He also said that they have tried to convince Congress that the move is a good decision, CNN reported.
“Finally, taxpayers stand to receive significant savings as we will generate nearly $300 million nominally over a 15-year lease term on employment costs and rent,” Perdue announced in his letter to employees. “This will allow us to redirect more funding for our research of critical needs like rural prosperity and agricultural competitiveness, and for programs and employees to be retained in the long run, even in the face of tightening budgets.”
The USDA did not immediately respond to request for comment.
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