Lawmaker slams relocation bills

D.C.'s House representative pushes back, trying to ensure a dead stop to yet another proposal to move federal agencies away from the nation's capital.

It’s an old saw: Some G.O.P. lawmaker steps up in Congress, and offers a bill to have this or that supposedly “wasteful” D.C.-based federal agency re-located—far out to the country’s hinterlands.

Or, at the very least, a bill to slash any further meaningful investment in a longtime capital area headquarters.

Well, over the past couple of years such legislation pushing this line remains pending. And right now, Sen Joni Ernst’s (R-Iowa) S. 4197 is in play—that’s the Strategic Withdrawal of Agencies for Meaningful Placement Act (or “SWAMP” Act) of 2022.

And, as ever, the longtime House member representing Washington, D.C., is a leading bulwark against such a bill.

“The District of Columbia is the seat of the federal government, and Congress cannot do its job without the unvarnished facts and briefings that senior officials in the executive branch give the House and Senate almost daily,” Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said in a statement this week. “This requires the headquarters of agencies to be in or near D.C. We can have a discussion about ways to make government work better for the American people, but the Ernst bill is intended to score cheap political points by invoking the so-called ‘swamp.’ I will continue to defeat such bills.”

Rep. Norton buttressed her words by introducing earlier in this Congress her own bill, H.R. 6594, which would prohibit the relocation of any federal agency from the D.C. area without explicit approval from Congress.

(A related bill (H.R. 1272) backed by Norton would create a legal requirement that a detailed cost-benefit analysis be conducted and reported before more than 5% of any agency’s personnel could be ordered to move as part of an agency relocation.)

President Trump ordered the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) unit and two large agency components of the Department of Agriculture out of Washington—relocating them in Colorado and the Kansas City metro area, respectively. The moves led to massive numbers of early retirements and voluntary separations, as many feds found the abrupt shift and the prospect of forcing their families into such long-distance changes intolerable. The Biden administration is in the process of at least partially, and slowly, reversing the Trump-era moves.

Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Iowa) in the House and Sen. Ernst are the key sponsors behind the most recent coordinated effort across both houses of Congress to force federal agencies to leave the national capital area. Multiple similar bills have been proposed by various GOP lawmakers in the past few years, with at least four introduced during the present 117th Congress.

Given the current, if thin, Democratic majority on Capitol Hill, observers note that none of these bills has made much progress. That of course could change, depending on the outcome of the midterm elections this November.

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