USDA slashes money offered to employees leaving after relocation

Employees at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture that decided to leave the agency rather than relocate to the new Kansas City location will not get the full separation payments originally offered to them.

According to Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment documents sent to employees and published by the American Federation of Government Employees, the agency reduced the payment offered to departing employees from $25,000 to $10,000, due to the large volume of employees choosing to leave the agency rather than move.

“In keeping consistent with the Secretary’s commitment to 'Do Right’ by our employees, the department’s priority was to offer a standard VSIP to every eligible employee who applied, instead of on a first-come first-serve basis," a USDA spokesperson told Federal Times in a statement.

According to the agency, USDA is not required to offer such payments, and the maximum amount allowed by the Office of Personnel Management is $25,000. The agency at first decided to offer such payments on a first-come, first-serve basis, but then determined that it would be better to offer lower payments to all eligible employees.

To receive the payment, employees also have to agree to leave the agency between Sept. 16 and 27, and cannot work for another federal agency for five years or forfeit their separation payment.

“It’s no secret that employees are extremely upset by USDA’s decision to relocate these two agencies half-way across the country. Two-thirds of employees rejected the agency’s orders to move by Sept. 30, so USDA should have planned better for that reality and budgeted accordingly,” AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said in a statement.

“Employees now have less than a week to decide whether to accept the reduced buyout, which also bars them for working at another federal agency for five years. Many of these employees have spent their careers devoted to agricultural research and furthering their agencies’ missions, and they deserve to be treated better than this.”

Critics of the plan to move the research agencies from their current location in Washington, D.C., to Kansas City warned early in the process that moving the agency would likely result in a brain drain at the agency, which proved true when a majority of employees declined to relocate.

But Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said that the departing employees were a good way to “drain the swamp” as federal employees are otherwise difficult to fire outright.

Those employees that do choose to move have been offered the opportunity to telework for the remainder of the year, while they make arrangements to move to the new location and will receive an incentive payment equal to one month’s pay.

Employees that qualify for VSIP payments, meaning those that announced their intent to leave the agency by July 15, are able to change their minds and leave USDA while foregoing a payment or choose to remain with the agency and relocate.

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