A recent Inspector General’s report from the Department of Agriculture shows a difference of opinion over the agency’s recent announcement to relocate two subagencies out of the Washington, DC area.
In its report, the IG looked at these questions regarding the move of the Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to Kansas City:
- Does the Department Have the Legal Authority to Relocate ERS and NIFA Offices?
- Does the Department Have the Budgetary Authority to Relocate ERS Offices?
- Does the Department Have the Budgetary Authority to Relocate NIFA Offices?
- Did the Department Adhere to Any Established Procedures Relating to Agency Realignment, Relocation, and Cost Benefit Analyses?
The IG said USDA has not received Congressional approval as required under law for the move.
“…the Department has not obtained Congressional approval, as required by Section 717(a) of the Omnibus Act, and has not complied with the reporting deadline requirement in Section 753 of the Omnibus Act,” said the IG report.
In its response to the IG, the USDA said that it has legal authority to move these two agencies. “The [USDA] Secretary has the requisite legal and budgetary authority to relocate ERS and NIFA. Indeed, the Official Draft concedes that the Secretary has the requisite legal authority to relocate ERS and NIFA,” according to the response provided from USDA in the IG report.
The IG, however, said:
…such provisions have been included in relevant appropriations acts since 2015, and that the Department [USDA] has previously taken the position that provisions, such as those found in Section 717(a), are binding upon the Department.
However, the Department is now taking the position that this language is unconstitutional. Therefore, the Department’s current and prior positions regarding the applicability of “committee approval” provisions, such as those found in Section 717(a), are not consistent. To reach management decision on this recommendation and to ensure consistent treatment going forward, the Department needs to communicate, in writing, this change of interpretation to USDA leaders at the Sub-Cabinet and Agency levels.
A copy of the IG report is included below.