The Trump administration’s decision to move three agency components outside the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area has spurred a sizeable amount of controversy, but Sens. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., want to keep going with that trend.
The two senators introduced a bill Oct. 23 that would move about 90 percent of the workforce at the headquarters for 10 federal agencies to other states around the country and pop the “bubble” of D.C. federal employment.
“Every year Americans’ hard-earned tax dollars fund federal agencies that are mainly located in the D.C. bubble. That’s a big part of the problem with Washington: they’re too removed from the rest of America,” said Hawley in a news release.
“The HIRE Act will move policymakers directly into the communities they serve, creating thousands of jobs for local communities and saving taxpayers billions of dollars along the way.”
Under the proposal, the Department of Agriculture would move to Missouri, Commerce to Pennsylvania, Education to Tennessee, Energy to Kentucky, Health and Human Services to Indiana, Housing and Urban Development to Ohio, Interior to New Mexico, Labor to West Virginia, Transportation to Michigan and Veterans Affairs to South Carolina.
“Moving agencies outside of Washington, D.C., both boosts local economies and lowers costs — that’s a winning combination. This legislation would enable Americans across the country to have greater access to good jobs. Tennesseans would greatly benefit from having portions of the Department of Education in the Volunteer State. It is my hope that the HIRE Act will quickly pass the Senate," said Blackburn.
The bill was inspired by the administration’s decision to move the Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture to Kansas City and to move the Bureau of Land Management to Colorado.
But that decision has been widely criticized as a move to drain those agencies of employees that don’t want to relocate, rather than increase efficiencies at the agencies.
Though Hawley and Blackburn claim that moving federal agencies would decrease attrition and save money because of the lower cost of living, early estimates from the NIFA and ERS move predict that two-thirds of employees will end up leaving the agencies rather than relocate.
Critics of such moves have also pointed out that closer to citizens may not mean a more effective agency, as many of the offices located in D.C. are tasked with policymaking, which requires access to members of Congress, the White House and other agencies to accomplish.
“Eighty-five percent of federal employees already live outside the nation’s capital — caring for veterans, supporting our military, processing Social Security and other federal benefits, and carrying out other vital work serving citizens across the country,” said American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. in a statement.
“It is neither cost-effective nor practical to relocate the headquarters of federal agencies away from Washington, where Congress is best equipped to hold political appointees and agency leaders accountable for their actions. This proposed legislation is a solution in search of a problem. Taxpayers would be better served by Congress ensuring federal agencies have the staffing and resources needed to carry out their vital missions.”
About 20 percent of D.C. residents are employed directly by the federal government, according to OPM and population data, while each of the 10 states slated for agency relocation under the bill have about .3 to one percent of their populations working for the federal government.
But Washington has an incredibly small population when compared with these states, and even if the entire D.C. federal workforce were to be relocated equally across the 10 states, the state with the lowest percent of federal workforce, Michigan, would only move from .3 percent to .4 percent.
The bill is bound to get strong pushback not only from the Democratically controlled House, which has been opposed to many of the Trump administration’s smaller moves, but also from the Virginia and Maryland members of Congress, whose states and districts would be likely to lose a number of jobs due to a relocation.
Jessie Bur covered the federal workforce and the changes most likely to impact government employees for Federal Times.