A controversial U.S. Department of Agriculture decision to move two of its research agencies from Washington, D.C., to Kansas City has resulted in approximately two-thirds of employees at those agencies indicating that they would rather leave their jobs than relocate.

The potential departures have been called a “brain drain” and “massive loss of talent” by critics of the plan, but Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney praised the resulting loss of employees in an Aug. 2 speech at the South Carolina Republican Party Silver Elephant Gala.

“It’s nearly impossible to fire a federal worker. I know that because a lot of them work for me, and I’ve tried and you can’t do it,” said Mulvaney.

“But by simply saying to people, ‘you know what, we’re going to take you outside the bubble, outside the Beltway, outside this liberal haven of Washington, D.C., and move you out into a real part of the country,’ and they quit. What a wonderful way to sort of streamline government and do what we haven’t been able to do for a long time.”

According to Mulvaney, the USDA move is part of a larger Trump administration strategy to move federal agencies outside Washington, D.C.

When Mulvaney was head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, he attempted to move the agency to Cleveland, Ohio, but found that the law prohibited the relocation of the agency.

“That’s how hard liberals work to make sure government lives forever,” said Mulvaney, adding that a D.C. location causes federal agencies and their associated bureaucracy to swell.

“It’s really, really hard to drain the swamp, but we’re working hard at it.”

Mulvaney’s statements lend credence to critics’ arguments that Trump administration reorganization and relocation proposals are designed more to get rid of the federal workforce and close down parts of agencies, rather than improve those agencies’ operations.

“Mick Mulvaney’s comments confirm what our union has been saying all along: the administration’s decision to transfer hundreds of USDA jobs from D.C. isn’t about helping federal employees do their jobs better or delivering better services to the American taxpayer,” said American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. in a statement.

“Their goal is to drive out hardworking and dedicated civil servants and silence the parts of the agencies’ research that the administration views as inconvenient.”

Members of Congress have moved to block the planned relocation, through both individual legislation and amendments to agency spending bills that would block the funds from being used for a relocation.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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