Bureaucracy

Let's Move More Federal Agencies Out of Washington

There's no need for most federal agencies to be stationed in the nation's capital, one of the most expensive cities in the country.

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When Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced plans last year to move some department jobs out of the nation's capital, employees weren't happy. Tensions flared up last week when U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) employees turned their backs to the cabinet secretary to protest the decision to move a few hundred USDA workers from Washington, D.C., to Kansas City. Employee objections aside, the idea of moving federal agencies to the heartland is a smart idea, and more agencies should follow the USDA's lead.

The proposal on the table involves moving two federal research agencies, the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, from their current offices to the greater Kansas City area (as of now it's not clear which side of the Kansas City-Missouri border). Roughly 550 jobs would move.

The USDA's cost-benefit analysis found that shifting these two agencies to Kansas City would reduce costs by 11.3 percent, saving taxpayers roughly $300 million (in nominal terms) over the next 15 years. These savings stem primarily from the fact that Kansas City has dramatically cheaper real estate than D.C., as well as marginally lower cost of living. The USDA's report noted that the median sale price of a home (a major factor in determining cost of living for employees) in Kansas City is $205,400, compared to $420,000 in D.C.

Lower real estate costs benefit federal agencies themselves, as well as their employees. According to a report from the Government Accountability Office, the feds spend almost $1.7 billion a year on operating and maintenance costs on underutilized or unused buildings.

Furthermore, as Vox columnist Matthew Yglesias wrote in 2016, there's isn't much reason to keep a lot of government agencies in or near Washington. It makes sense to keep groups involved with "day-to-day politics" or policymaking, like the diplomatic corps, close to the capital. But many agencies are research organizations, and there's no clear purpose in keeping them near the seat of power. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, and there aren't many concerns that this distance from Washington impedes the agency's mission.

In the case of these USDA agencies, it might even make a little more sense for them to move to the Midwest. Kansas City is much closer to the heart of American agriculture than D.C. is, and there are already 4,000 USDA employees in Kansas and Missouri, along with universities and companies more focused on farming and animal breeding than their D.C. counterparts.

Moving agencies out of D.C. and into Kansas City will help both cities' economies. The nation's capital is inordinately expensive, in no small part due to zoning regulations that prevent the supply of housing from keeping up with demand. Meanwhile, many Midwestern cities have lost population and suffered economically from de-industrialization. 

Similarly, bringing thousands of government workers to the Midwest would bring hundreds of millions of dollars in consumer spending to the local economy, not to mention new jobs. As Yglesias noted, Rust Belt cities that have suffered from post-industrial population decline still have some of the infrastructure necessary to absorb new people without seriously increasing the cost of living.

In fairness to the protesting workers, it's not easy to uproot and move to a different part of the country—especially if one has a family—though the USDA estimates that the relocation packages it will offer to current workers will equal $50,000 per employee. Still, as a matter of public policy, shifting federal agencies out of D.C. is a win-win. If shifting merely 550 jobs can reduce government spending by $20 million a year, consider the possible savings from shifting hundreds of thousands of federal employees into lower-cost states. 

NEXT: Is the Chevron Doctrine Really Such a Problem?

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  1. “the USDA estimates that the relocation packages it will offer to current workers will equal $50,000 per employee.”

    AYFKM?

    1. $50k to move to a location where average housing is 1/2, no DC traffic, no DC attitude and there is nothing anywhere that says they are taking a pay cut. Not only are they whiners, they are idiots.

      The picture I saw over the weekend of the ‘backturners’ was a bunch of aged hippies and the only younger guy had a neckbeard. The problem isn’t families, it’s moving them to a red state where their vote doesn’t matter and where their weekend protest activities are likely to get them seriously injured.

      1. Kansas City, MO has had 1 Republican mayor since 1930. This isn’t Branson, MO that we’re talking about here.

        1. hey ma, how ’bout some cookies?

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Bt4Ly9_9Qg

      2. Their vote doesn’t matter much in DC either.

      3. They’re taking a pay cut.

        Locality pay for DC is 29.32%, locality pay for Kansas City is 16.6%.

        1. And they’ll still be way far ahead? So WTF.

          And if you don’t like having more money in the bank, they can always quit.

      4. That said…

        […] where their weekend protest activities are likely to get them seriously injured.

        Assuming you’re right (this is your claim, remember) isn’t “political violence” a legitimate concern?

    2. As long as they get out of DC

  2. “…bringing thousands of government workers to the Midwest will bring hundreds of millions of dollars in consumer spending to the local economy, not to mention new jobs.”

    By that logic we should relocate these employees to a different location every year.

    1. It’s genius! I like it.

    2. I would have thought Muresianu would at least mention why we have the District of Columbia in the first place: so one state wouldn’t be advantaged by having the nation’s capital in it. Which seems a good reason to keep bureaucrats in DC. Still moving the USDA makes financial sense, but it would be even better if the USDA didn’t exist in preference to the free market regulating industry which does it better. Also not mentioned, the USDA has field offices in practically every county in the US, just check it’s field office locator web page.

      1. That was a reasonable-sounding idea back in the 1700s.

        Didn’t really work out as intended.

    3. That would be far more effective and less of a drain on the economy than what we currently have.

  3. I would get behind any candidate, D or R, that was serious about doing this at scale. Imagine the benefit to say moving the education department to Detroit and Dept of energy to Morgantown WV. Lower cost to operate those departments and infusion to those struggling economies. And getting the depress away from the corruption in DC proper could only benefit the output.

    1. Yes, especially if roughly half of the relocation packages were actually severance packages.

    2. As President, I will spend the 1st day of office personally going to every Cabinet department HQ to hand out pink slips. I will have a list of all executive branch employees where each employee will be given a number of 1, 2, or 3 and as I enter the HQ I will yell out one of those numbers and all those people will be fired.

      Based on my experience with other government agencies like the DMV, I anticipate there will be little to any noticeable difference in productivity.

      1. That probably is not actually legal by past civil service reforms.

        1. With a group of say 200 armed guards they’ll be gone one way or the other.

    3. Let’s move them to the moon.

    4. Let’s include Congress-critters, who could stay in their homes and tele-commute for debates and voting.
      It would make the lobbyists’ jobs much more difficult. They would have to get in touch with each one, instead of just walking from office to office, as they can in D.C.

    5. Only thing I would add to that is that most of those federal depts should also be converted to ‘interstate compact’ form rather than remain part of the executive branch.

      Interstate compact form eliminates most of the ‘mandating’ authority since that form is based on the notion that these are agreements between the states. Still requires congressional legislation to create the form but it takes the mgmt authority out of the exec branch which means that the exec itself at least can be more closely restricted to actual constitutional enumeration.

      And once it is interstate compact, then the feds can over time either transition the funding to the state level (assuming the states find it valuable) or keep funding it but under a more constitutionally sound rationale like this is the way we will distribute fed money to the state level as competition to the Federal Reserve.

      I think about 80+% of Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, HHS, HUD, Transportation, Energy, Education, and Homeland Security can probably be morphed into that form

  4. like the good people of Kansas City want a bunch of USDA reprobates hanging around bitching about cherry blossoms.

    also, let’s just close a bunch of agencies instead.

    1. Agreed. There is no reason for 80% of federal government agencies, including the USDA and FDA.

  5. They’re moving in the wrong direction. We should be relocating federal agencies several hundred miles to the EAST of D.C.

    1. Careful, Vernon. A government bureaucrat may misread that and put in a budget item for building an artificial island in the Atlantic.

      1. if they all stand on one end of the artificial island will it capsize?

  6. Let’s Move More Federal Agencies Out of Washington Existence

  7. The solution here is a snap: Fire those whose jobs are to be relocated, and allow them to apply for the new jobs in KC.

    1. Martin Marietta came close to that. I was working on a contract basis when the word came that the lease on a Virginia building would not be renewed, and the jobs were being transferred to Orlando. The deal was, if the employees showed up at the new location, they could apply for their old jobs. No relocation assistance, no job search assistance for spouses, no nothing. Not even a guarantee they would be accepted at the new location.
      So I negotiated a six month contract extension on the assignment to take all the application software down to Orlando, install it, and provide support.
      Not a single employee made the trip. The really fun part was that they had all been basically forced to move to Virginia 3 years earlier to occupy the new “permanent” facility.
      Yes, I DID rub it in to all the employees who had been telling me about the “security” of being an employee instead of a contractor.

      1. Was that the facility off of Lake Underhill? Out near UCF?

  8. But…gasp! That means that our noble public servants will have to live in…ugh! flyover country! Where all those rednecks live! Where they cling to their God and their guns! Ooo! Ick!

    1. This is the ONLY reason these employees are bitching.

      They lose access to all the best cocktail parties.

      Fuck them. Move or find another fucking job. Stop acting like you’re the first person in history to have been relocated because of work. Or not. Government worker tears are the sweetest of all.

  9. This new intern sounds like a Sherlock Holmes villain. I don’t trust him.

    1. Good point. And the use of twitter is certainly suspect – – – – – –

  10. There is a lot to be said or putting all the federal employees in a box in the middle of the country. We can claim it will minimize travel expenses, and then never approve travel.
    Say Topeka KS in January thru March; Big Bend TX in July and August? And only pay for those five months.

  11. “…it is not easy to uproot, especially if one has a family…”

    Especially if your spouse is working at some other government job or job servicing government which they would be less likely to find an equivalent to in the KC area.

    Dual income families make easy mobility difficult.

    1. Yes and no. Finding a new job because you’re following your spouse is a pain in the neck. But having the luxury to maintain continuity of income and/or benefits while your spouse is in transition – that can be pretty powerful, too. Dual income families have some burdens but also some flexibility that single-income families do not.

      1. Dual income families have some burdens but also some flexibility

        Only if their incomes are high enough so that they can get by on just one of them while making a move. Many dual income households are also lower income households, for whom voluntary relocating is financially out of the question.

        1. In this case, with the lower cost of living, these tools should have plenty of fluff room if they’ve been living responsible lives and aren’t into debt up to their eyeballs.

    2. “…it is not easy to uproot, especially if one has a family…”

      Yet that is Reason’s advice to the industrial midwest.
      #LearnToCode and move to SF.

    3. Tough. Jobs don’t exist to satisfy workers’ lives. They exist to satisfy consumers’ lives.

  12. Not even a throwaway line about how most of these organizations shouldn’t even exist?

  13. 1) This is essentially what the Pentagon does and try cutting one of their programs even when the Pentagon doesn’t even want it. “Think of the jobs” spread across 50 states won’t help matters.

    2) Yeah I imagine those savings won’t actually materialize in lower spending/less taxes. Call me a cynic, but I’d wager that Congress would just spend that money on something else which alternatively takes more power from the people and puts in the hands of the government.

    1. “Think of the jobs” spread across 50 states won’t help matters.

      Yes, this is the problem with spreading out federal employees. Now instead of being in the “neutral” territory of DC, they’ll be in some congressman’s district and that congressman will now fight forever and ever to preserve those jobs.

      1. D.C. is neutral? The three highest wealth countries are around d.c. they concentrating bribery when it is in all 50 states.

  14. Ummm….no, but nice try.
    A better idea would be to eliminate a lot of federal agencies.
    Better luck next time.

  15. “There’s no need for most federal agencies to be stationed in the nation’s capital…”

    I’d like to see most federal agencies moved into Quonset Huts on the west end of Attu Island. Tell those who don’t want to go it is either that or they can learn to code—in the private sector.

  16. Dispersing the federal apparatchik class across the country would be a huge blow against the increasingly hereditary #DeepState.

    The Trump Administration floated it early on.

    Big trouble for the intern writer of the article. He has publically agreed with Trump – and possibly Bannon! Is he a #MAGA mole?

  17. […] Yes, let’s move them out of Washington. […]

  18. Another unmentioned reason for doing this is that your grade as a Government Service employee (i.e. GS) is partially determined by location and receives locality pay based upon cost of living as well.

    Moving a large number of employees would long term result in both a decrease in the number of higher level GS14 and 15 positions and an immediate decrease in locality pay.

    For example, while GS14/15 positions are basically unlimited in the DC area, when I was stationed in Arizona the base I was at had only one GS14 position out of over 1000 civilian positions. And there were no GS15 positions for this location either.

    Finally, make no mistake that DC is a magnet for the hipster douche crowd as it allows them to congregate amongst one another free of the flyover people they want to rule over. Moving the positions to the hinterlands would result in a different kind of person applying for these jobs long term. And that can only be an improvement.

  19. Better yet, shut most of them down. The Founders never contemplated the number of agencies created by Congress who also unconstitutionally create laws (regulations). As To Kansas City the announcement said “from their current offices to the greater Kansas City area (as of now it’s not clear which side of the Kansas City-Missouri border)” Almost all offices or excess space is in Johnson County, KS. If moved to Mo. the employees will most likely live in Johnson County, KS

  20. “Not easy to uproot and move to a different part of the country?” What the in the hell are you talking about? Thank to my father’s and I’d military service, I’ve lived in 9 different states and Japan. Yeah, moving sucks but grow some gonads and get over it.

  21. […] Let’s Move More Federal Agencies Out of Washington […]

  22. […] I have been saying this for some time, […]

  23. Other than getting rid of the useless workers entirely, this would probably be the next best option.

    There is no reason for the government to pay massively higher wages to have mid level paper pushers living in one of the most expensive cities in the country.

  24. […] In the case of these USDA agencies, it might even make a little more sense for them to move to the Midwest. Kansas City is much closer to the heart of American agriculture than D.C. is, and there are already 4,000 USDA employees in Kansas and Missouri, along with universities and companies more focused on farming and animal breeding than their D.C. counterparts. Read More > at Reason […]

  25. […] year, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced plans to move 550 Department of Agriculture employees to Kansas […]

  26. […] year, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced plans to move 550 Department of Agriculture employees to Kansas […]

  27. […] year, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced plans to move 550 Department of Agriculture employees to Kansas […]

  28. […] year, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced plans to move 550 Department of Agriculture employees to Kansas […]

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