Donald Trump is doubling down on the decades-long Republican war on government. He just feels empowered to take it to levels never before conceived of. Where Republicans previously tried to do it within the normal bounds of the appropriations process, by starving agencies and forcing attrition, Trump is doing it by literally playing with employees’ lives.
The administration is relocating two research agencies within the Department of Agriculture from Washington, D.C., to Kansas City (it hasn’t been disclosed so far whether that’s the Missouri side or the Kansas side) and most of the Bureau of Land Management’s D.C. staff to Grand Junction, Colorado. This means dozens of federal workers who can’t just uproot their lives and their families from their homes are leaving the government.
That’s not the only problem, though, because the targeted staff are some of the leading experts in their agencies, scientists and regulators who’ve made their careers in public service. It’s a war on government and a war on science. “These decisions […] are meant to displace seasoned scientists and regulators who have honorably served Republican and Democratic Administrations alike,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, told ThinkProgress. “This Administration is acting to undermine the subject-matter experts at many of our federal agencies,” said Van Hollen, who noted that he would “continue to use every tool available to push back against these actions.”
More than half of the employees in the USDA’s Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture have declined to relocate. The ERS staff, in particular, are concerned that it’s intended to disrupt their scientific work on climate change and environmental issues. Employees in these two agencies have been issuing reports and conducting studies showing the impact that Trump’s trade war with China and his environmental policies have been having on agriculture in particular. The workers rightly see these relocations as retribution.
One option Congress has, with Democrats in control of the House, is to block funding for the relocations, and Van Hollen, along with other senators, has introduced legislation to keep the agencies in D.C.