Is Telework’s Recent Success Proof That Agencies Should Be Moved Out of Washington?
Posted on August 3rd, 2020 | By Ian Smith
One Senator said recently that the fact that many federal employees have been doing their jobs successfully during the COVID-19 pandemic via telework is clear evidence that federal agencies do not need to be located in Washington, DC.
Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) said in a recent hearing, “During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of our federal workers have successfully done their jobs remotely, showing us that they don’t necessarily need to be in Washington to do their jobs. I think this bolsters my argument that we can and should move more jobs out of Washington…”
She was making a pitch for a bill that she introduced last year which would facilitate moving federal agencies out of Washington, DC. The Strategic Withdrawal of Agencies for Meaningful Placement (SWAMP) Act (S. 2269) would create a competitive bidding process that allows states, cities, and towns across the country to compete to be an agency’s new home.
Specifically, the bill would:
- Repeal the section of the U.S. Code that requires federal agencies and departments to be located in Washington, D.C.
- Prohibit agencies currently headquartered in the Washington, D.C. area from entering into new lease agreements, making significant renovations to their existing locations, or beginning construction on new facilities in the area.
- Exempt the Executive Office of the President, the Department of Defense, and all other national security-related agencies that must be in close proximity to Congress and the White House.
Ernst said that the bill would distribute future agency headquarters over geographically diverse areas of the nation to help ensure agencies focus on the stakeholders.
In a statement about the bill, Ernst said, “Instead of housing federal agencies in swampy D.C., let’s move them outside the Beltway and closer to the folks who know the needs of their states, farms, and businesses best. And in the process, we will see more job creation and greater opportunities for communities across the country—not just in D.C.”
Ernst’s bill is not the first to propose moving federal agencies out of Washington. Perhaps the most aggressive legislation introduced recently would move most federal agencies outside of the DC area. Introduced by Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO), the Helping Infrastructure Restore the Economy (HIRE) Act (S. 2672) would move 90% of the positions in 10 executive departments to other states.
The efforts to relocate federal agencies were emboldened in Congress when the Agriculture Department relocated two of its agencies to Kansas City, MO.
“We’re excited to announce ERS and NIFA’s new, permanent home in downtown Kansas City, Missouri and provide clarity on commute times and work-life balance for our employees,” USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement last October.
Whether or not any of these other efforts in Congress to relocate agencies will come to fruition remains to be seen.
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