12.21.17

Ag Committee Democrats Seek Information on Senior Career Employee Reassignments at USDA

WASHINGTON – Today, the ten Democratic members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry wrote a letter to Stephen Vaden, the Trump administration’s nominee for General Counsel of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), to seek more information regarding the reassignments of several high-level career employees at USDA.

Since January 20, USDA has reassigned at least a dozen Senior Executive Service (SES) employees. Recently, questions were raised to the Senate Agriculture Committee regarding these reassignments.

“SES career employees are highly skilled leaders that enable the USDA to provide the highest level of service to our farmers, families and rural communities,” wrote the Senators. “It is critically important for us to understand the purpose of these reassignments in order to ensure that all staffing changes are made in the best interest of USDA’s customers.”

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, raised these concerns during the Committee’s vote on Vaden, who has been serving as a leader in the USDA Office of the General Counsel since early in the Trump administration.

The letter, led by Ranking Member Stabenow, was also signed by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Robert Casey (D-Pa.), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) – who all serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee.

The full text of the letter is below. A PDF of the letter is available here.

 

December 21, 2017

Dear Mr. Vaden,

We are writing today to obtain further information regarding recent questions that have been raised about SES career employees at the Department of Agriculture (USDA).  SES career employees are highly skilled leaders that enable the USDA to provide the highest level of service to our farmers, families and rural communities.

In your responses to a question raised by Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow in evaluating your nomination, you identified 12 career SES officials that USDA had reassigned since January 20, 2017. 

It is critically important for us to understand the purpose of these reassignments in order to ensure that all staffing changes are made in the best interest of USDA’s customers. Please respond in writing to the following questions by January 11, 2018. 

1. What role did the Office of General Counsel play in the reassignment of the individuals identified in your responses?

2. Please explain in detail your role in the reassignment of the individuals identified in your responses.

3. Please provide the names of any senior officials in the Office of Human Resources Management that were involved in working on the reassignments identified in your responses.

4. Since January 20, 2017, what changes have been made in the process for performance reviews for the SES employees?  Why were any such changes made?

5. For each of the reassigned individuals identified in your responses regarding the SES reassignments, please provide:

the basis of or reason for the reassignment;

the qualifications of the reassigned employee for the new position to which the employee was assigned;

a description of how the reassignment will better serve taxpayer interests and the operations and functioning of USDA;

the reassigned employee’s race, national origin, and gender;

the date when the reassigned employee first became an SES employee; and

the name of each individual that replaced the reassigned SES official.

6. Were any of the reassignments identified in your responses regarding the SES reassignments made because of the political affiliation of the individual reassigned or because the individual had worked closely with Obama Administration leadership officials at USDA? If yes, please explain.

7. During 2017, how many career SES employees have challenged or contested their initial performance evaluation or asked for a higher level of review for their performance ratings, and how many career SES employees had their ratings changed by the Performance Review Board? 

8. During 2016, how many career SES employees have challenged or contested their initial performance evaluation or asked for a higher level of review for their performance ratings, and how many career SES employees had their ratings changed by the Performance Review Board?

9. Since January 20, 2017, have any career SES employees retired or terminated their employment with the agency in lieu of being reassigned?  If so, please provide the name, race, national origin, and gender of any such individuals.

10. Please provide the names of any other career SES employees USDA has considered reassigning or proposed to be reassigned since January 20, 2017 not listed in the response you previously provided to Ranking Member Stabenow’s question.   

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.