USDA inspector general: Moving research offices from D.C. to Kansas City isn’t quite legal

by Amy Mayer, Kansas News Service

Critics of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s decision to move two of its research agencies from Washington, D.C., to the Kansas City area got more ammunition this week.

The most recent development: A report from the USDA’s inspector general that finds some flaws with how the department has executed its plan.

Last September, U.S. Reps. Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, D.C., and Steny Hoyer, both Democrats, sent a letter asking the inspector general to determine whether the move was legal.

The report found that moving the agencies is within the USDA’s authority, but it failed to meet certain criteria for spending the needed money. The inspector general asked USDA to get an opinion from the legal office, which determined the rules referenced are unconstitutional.

But the inspector general’s report notes that in the past, USDA determined the same rules “are binding upon the Department.”

In response to the report, Norton and Hoyer want USDA to put the brakes on its planned moves.

“We continue to urge Secretary Perdue to halt this misguided relocation process,” the two wrote in a statement.

The offices of Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids, who represents the Kansas side of the Kansas City area, and Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt declined comment on Tuesday after the inspector general’s report became public.

In a guest commentary in The Kansas City Star on Sunday, Blunt wrote that the area makes sense for the agencies for a variety of reasons. Among them: it’s in the animal health research corridor, is close to many land-grant universities in the region that conduct agricultural research and is already home to the USDA’s Farm Service Agency and the Risk Management Agency.

Many groups have criticized the Trump administration and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue for moving the agencies, branding the move as retaliation against ERS and NIFA research that clashes with the administration’s agenda. The left-leaning National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition issued a statement calling on the moves to be stopped.

“We urge Congress to take this information as an opportunity to end once and for all Secretary Perdue’s strong-arm tactics,” the group wrote, “and stop all action on the relocations until Congress has given its formal approval — or denial.”

Follow Amy on Twitter: @AgAmyinAmes.
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