Sens. Hawley, Blackburn Propose Massive Relocation of Federal Departments, Agencies

October 24, 2019 Updated: October 25, 2019

WASHINGTON—Two freshmen Republican senators want to relocate 10 major federal departments out of the nation’s capital to “economically distressed” regions of the country.

The senators are Josh Hawley of Missouri and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, and their proposal is known as the “Helping Infrastructure Restore the Economy Act of 2019″ (HIRE).

Proposals for moving parts of the federal establishment out of Washington have been around for decades, but the HIRE approach is an entirely new one—put these government operations with their hundreds of thousands of jobs and multibillion-dollar payrolls in areas of the country that need economic boosts.

Helping grow the economy where it’s most needed would be reason enough to make the move, according to the senators, but they also argue that there would also be huge additional benefits in the bargain.

“Every year, Americans’ hard-earned tax dollars fund federal agencies that are mainly located in the D.C. bubble,” Hawley said in a statement accompanying the release of the proposal.

“That’s a big part of the problem with Washington, they are too removed from the rest of America. 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.”

Blackburn said in the statement: “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.”

Their proposal would transfer more than 90 percent of the workforces of the following departments to new locations in the heartland: Department of Veterans Affairs to South Carolina; Department of Transportation to Michigan; Department of Labor to West Virginia; Department of the Interior to New Mexico; Department of Housing and Urban Development to Ohio; Department of Health and Human Services to Indiana; Department of Energy to Kentucky; Department of Education to Tennessee; Department of Commerce to Pennsylvania; and Department of Agriculture (USDA) to Missouri.

While the senators didn’t include justifications for moving specific departments to the indicated states, several appear at first glance to make sense. Moving the Department of Transportation to Michigan, for example, would put it in the state that was the birthplace of American motorized transportation.

But the 10 listed departments wouldn’t be the only federal operations to be moved under the HIRE proposal. The proposal also “requires the federal government to move most non-department agencies to economically distressed regions that have a geographic nexus to the agency.”

Exactly how many federal departments, independent agencies, commissions, and boards there are is a source of debate among governance experts. The total changes annually.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Clyde Wayne Crews, author of the annual “Ten Thousand Commandments” compilation of federal regulations, told The Epoch Times on Oct. 24: “There are at least 250 federal agencies and programs. This matters because, if we can’t find the agencies, we aren’t going to be able to locate whatever rules or guidance they expect us to abide. Congress passes a few dozen rules every year; agencies, thru notice and comment, pass several thousand.”

Hawley and Blackburn contend that moving departments and agencies out across the country would also help the federal government retain needed talent longer.

“Americans spend billions in taxes to pay for federal salaries. But they lack equal access to those jobs. Even though federal jobs are paid for by everybody, those jobs disproportionately are in the D.C. area,” the senators said.

“Retaining quality employees is easier when costs of living are low, commute times are short, and federal salaries are high relative to the region.”

As an example of the benefits to be gained by decentralizing the government across the country, the senators noted the USDA decision to move its National Institute for Food and Agriculture and Economic Research Service to Kansas City.

The selection of Kansas City was based on an Ernst & Young evaluation of 300 potential sites in 35 states. Among the benefits the evaluation identified were the following:

  • Improving USDA’s ability to attract and retain highly qualified scientific and administrative staff with training and interests in agriculture, many of whom come from land-grant universities.
  • With lower cost of living opening a broader candidate pool, USDA would be able to decrease turnover in these positions currently in the Washington area associated with a higher cost of living and longer commutes.
  • Place important USDA resources closer to many USDA stakeholders, most of whom live and work far from the Washington area.
  • Benefit American taxpayers through significant savings on employment costs and rent, which will allow more employees to be retained in the long run, even in the face of tightening budgets.

Both senators were elected in 2018—Hawley after serving as his state’s attorney general and Blackburn following multiple terms in the House of Representatives.

Contact Mark Tapscott at mark.tapscott@epochtimes.nyc

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