USDA Labs’ Move to Kansas City Might Be Illegal
USDA Labs’ Move to Kansas City Might Be Illegal

USDA Labs’ Move to Kansas City Might Be Illegal

An inspector general finds that the agency was supposed to have received congressional approval before relocating facilities out of Washington, DC.

Aug 6, 2019
Kerry Grens

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The US Department of Agriculture should have obtained approval from Congress before deciding to relocate two research facilities from Washington, DC, to Kansas City, a report by the agency’s inspector general finds. The USDA may have violated federal law because the Omnibus Act requires congressional approval before creating, cancelling, or moving a project, according to The Kansas City Star.

The inspector general also determined that the agency didn’t comply with a 60-day deadline to outline to Congress how it would spend $6 million set aside for relocation expenses, Politico reports. 

Democratic lawmakers who had asked for the inspector general to investigate oppose the move to Kansas City. “The [USDA] Secretary must follow the will of Congress and refrain from moving forward with the relocation until Congress approves the use of funds for those purposes,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) say in a joint statement, the Star reports.

USDA Secretary Sonny Purdue is moving the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to be closer to farmers and to save costs. But in addition to possibly violating federal law, the relocation could impede science.

Last month, The Washington Post reported that two-thirds of the affected employees have declined to move to the Kansas City area and that $50 million in grants for research projects have been put on hold—and may never get distributed.

The USDA says it will forge ahead with completing the move by September 30, and the agency counters Democrats’ argument that it is breaking the law in doing so. “To say the Department was out of step with budgetary requirements disregards the authority given to the Executive Branch by the U.S. Constitution,” a USDA spokesperson says in a statement sent to the Star.

Kerry Grens is a senior editor and the news director of The Scientist. Email her at kgrens@the-scientist.com.