Recently introduced legislation would require federal agencies to conduct cost-benefit analyses before relocating.
The bills were introduced in the House and Senate by Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) (H.R. 1272) and Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) (S. 392), respectively. The bills were previously introduced in the last session of Congress in response to what the lawmakers called “the previous administration’s forced relocation of two Department of Agriculture research agencies in 2019.”
Wexton and Van Hollen point to the 2019 relocation of the two USDA agencies as evidence of why their bill is needed. Their press release on the bill says that a full cost-benefit analysis of the move was never made public and said that most federal employees at the agencies chose not to relocate because of a “haphazard relocation process.”
Wexton raised concerns in 2019 about the relocation of the USDA agencies, citing concerns about the details surrounding the cost-benefit analysis summary document released by USDA as well as a dispute the agency had with its own IG over whether it had legal authority to relocate the agencies.
Their bill would require federal agencies to conduct a cost-benefit analysis in accordance with federal guidelines for “best practices” for undertaking such a review. The required analysis would include quantitative data such as the costs of real estate and staffing, as well as qualitative metrics like employee attrition, loss of institutional knowledge, as well as short and long-term impacts on the ability of the agency to carry out its mission. Results of the analysis be submitted to the agency’s Inspector General for review and made publicly available.
Wexton said in a statement, “Federal workers make America work, but over the past four years they’ve weathered an administration that sought to whittle down the federal government, discredit and politicize their work, and force them from their jobs. We have a monumental task ahead of us to revitalize the federal workforce, and that begins with legislation like the COST of Relocations Act. The comprehensive and public cost-benefit analysis required under this legislation would help safeguard the integrity of our federal agencies and assure federal employees that their work is valued, independent, apolitical, and essential to the American people.”
Van Hollen added, “Relocating federal agencies impacts thousands of lives — from the employees who staff them to constituents they serve. When the government makes these decisions we must ensure the best interests of the American people and the costs to the taxpayer come first — not politics. The Trump Administration’s unnecessary and costly decision to move ERS and NIFA underscored the need for a more thorough, standardized, and transparent review process. This legislation would ensure just that.”
Other lawmakers have more recently sought to loosen restrictions on relocating federal agencies outside of Washington, DC, an approach which seemed to become even more popular after the USDA agency relocations and the Bureau of Land Management successfully relocated its headquarters to Colorado. Around that time, two Senators proposed moving most federal agencies outside of the DC area because “they’re too removed from the rest of America” as Josh Hawley (R-MO) put it at the time. Hawley’s bill would have moved most agencies out of the DC metro area to economically distressed regions in other states which they said would have been a great cost savings to taxpayers. It ultimately failed to advance in Congress, however.