Politics & Policy

Hawley to Introduce Bill to Move Federal Agencies out of Washington D.C. to Economically Stagnant Areas

Senator Josh Hawley in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., July 11, 2019 (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Days after squaring off online against “elitist” critics of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s relocation of agency jobs, Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) will introduce legislation on Wednesday that would move the majority of the federal bureaucracy out of Washington D.C. to economically depressed areas, according to a summary of the bill provided to National Review.

The “Helping Infrastructure Restore the Economy (HIRE) Act,” which is cosponsored by Senator Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.), would move 90 percent of the positions within ten executive agencies to economically distressed regions that have a stake in the work of those respective agencies.

Under the bill, the Department of Agriculture would be relocated to Hawley’s home state of Missouri while the Department of Education would move to Blackburn’s Tennessee, in order to disperse the economic benefits associated with relatively high-paying government jobs that currently accrue to just a few zip codes.

“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. 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,” Hawley said in a statement.

The bill comes in the wake of Hawley’s online feud with Department of Agriculture research analyst Andrew Crane-Droesch, who wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post on Monday arguing that Perdue relocated his division, the Economic Research Service, to Kansas City. Mo. last year in order to undermine its staff because their research didn’t support the administration’s policy goals.

“I assume this is a parody, right? DC bureaucrats aren’t actually saying out loud that moving to Missouri is … punishment, are they? Because surely nobody could be that condescending & elitist,” Hawley wrote on Twitter in response to the op-ed.

Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent moved to defend Crane-Droesch on Twitter, prompting Hawley to label him a “smug, rich liberal elitist” — a charge which CNN anchor Jake Tapper then implied was motivated by anti-semitism.

“In which ⁦@HawleyMO⁩ calls a Jewish journalist a ‘smug, rich liberal elitist,'” Tapper tweeted, eliciting a biting response from Hawley.

“For defending my homestate of Missouri, liberal media have called me ‘phony,’ ‘ugly,’ ‘smarmy,’ a racist and now an anti-Semite. All in 24 hrs,” Hawley responded. “This is how they bully those who aren’t part of the DC club. But I don’t care what slurs they use, I will ALWAYS defend Missouri.”

Hawley’s response to Tapper’s claim — positioning himself as an outsider who threatens to subvert the establishment’s stranglehold on policymaking — is in keeping with his approach to messaging since he arrived in Washington in January. He has coupled rhetorical floggings of big-tech companies with legislation designed to rein in their power, and lashed out at the free-market orthodoxy that has predominated in Republican politics for decades.

His new legislation, if it were to pass, would certainly make good on a promise he made during his maiden senate floor speech to ensure that the economic gains of recent decades flow from the “aristocratic elite” to the “working men and women” of the country who want to “build a life where [they] grew up.”

But, like so much of the policy framework the populist right is working on, the proposed legislation must overcome the inertia of a status quo that has obtained for decades if it is to be implemented. How, for instance, would the federal agencies fill high-skill positions that require post-college education when the vast majority of highly educated Americans have, for decades, shunned the middle of the country in favor of coastal cities? The prospect of secure employment and a low cost of living will help, but the move could require a broader cultural transformation as well.

Pragmatic considerations about its execution aside, proponents of the legislation argue that it will save taxpayers money in the form of reduced lease costs. (Relocating the Department of Agriculture would save $300 million over fifteen years due to lower real estate prices, lower cost of living, and increased employee retention, according to one USDA study released in June).

While taxpayers stand to save, the bill’s most substantial benefits would accrue to the economically depressed communities that would receive an influx of jobs and a capital injection in the form of tens of millions of dollars in annual salaries, introducing a politically fraught dynamic in which a coalition of lawmakers representing largely Republican interior states square off against the largely Democratically controlled coasts for control of a massive quantity of what amounts to federal pork.

The states that would benefit from the bill are: Pennsylvania (Commerce), Kentucky (Energy), Indiana (HHS), Ohio (HUD), New Mexico (Interior), West Virginia (Labor), Michigan (Transportation), South Carolina (VA).

While there is some precedent for the move — the CDC is located in Atlanta, Ga. and the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Center is in Clarksburg, W.V. — it will prove difficult for Hawley and Blackburn to secure Democratic support for a relocation that would likely be opposed by the federal bureaucrats who overwhelmingly lean — and donate to — the left.

There is, however, some nascent support for the idea of lowering the cultural and economic divides between the Accela corridor and the rest of the country on the progressive left as well. Upstart presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who has displayed a remarkable ability to mainstream previously unthinkable ideas in the span of just a few months, has called for the relocation of federal agencies “to provide a boost to local economies and tie the rest of the country to the federal government.”

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