Government

Ernst wants to move federal offices, jobs out of Washington 'bubble'

Swamp Act would put agencies near those impacted by policy decisions

(File photo) Sen. Joni Ernst speaks at the Iowa Corn Growers Association annual crop fair at the Meskwaki Bingo Casino Hotel in Tama on Monday, Jan. 15, 2018. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
(File photo) Sen. Joni Ernst speaks at the Iowa Corn Growers Association annual crop fair at the Meskwaki Bingo Casino Hotel in Tama on Monday, Jan. 15, 2018. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — At the same time Congress is struggling to reach agreement on a $1.3 trillion budget deal to keep the federal government’s lights on, Sen. Joni Ernst is proposing to move executive branch agencies out of the Washington “bubble insulated from common sense” to parts of the country where the cost for office space and salaries is less.

Office space in Des Moines rents for less than a third of the cost in the Washington area and the cost of living is significantly less, too, the Iowa Republican said Thursday before introducing legislation she called Strategic Withdrawal of Agencies for Meaningful Placement Act.

“We call it the Swamp Act for short,” told reporters on a conference call.

“This legislation will help to ensure agencies focus on the stakeholders, and not on bureaucracy within the D.C. beltway while also bringing good, stable government jobs to new parts of the country."

- Sen. Joni Ernst

Ernst envisions communities across the nation engaging in a competitive bidding process to become home to the agencies — and the thousands of jobs that come with them. She also noted that in many cases, such as the Rock Island Arsenal, federal office space already is available.

Currently, she said, the headquarters of nearly all executive branch agencies are located in and around Washington, concentrating hundreds of thousands of jobs in the region. The SWAMP Act aims to distribute the agencies and jobs across the country among the people most impacted by the effects of agency decisions.

“This legislation will help to ensure agencies focus on the stakeholders, and not on bureaucracy within the D.C. beltway while also bringing good, stable government jobs to new parts of the country,” Ernst said on a conference call with reporters.

The Department of Defense and national security agencies that must be in proximity to Congress and the White House would be exempted from her legislation that is a companion to a piece introduced in the House by U.S. Rep. Luke Messer of Indiana.

“Every day, out-of-touch federal government agencies and bureaucrats in Washington make important decisions and rules that directly impact the lives of folks across the United States,” Ernst said.

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The Waters of the U.S. Rule — WOTUS — issued by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers is an example of a “nonsensical” or harmful rule that might not have been written had those agencies been located where the employees could “see and hear firsthand the impact their policies have on the folks who know their states, businesses and needs the best,” she said.

The Swamp Act is in the spirit of the message American voters sent with the election of President Donald Trump that they “wanted a government that better serves them, not Washington bureaucrats,” Ernst said.

“The USDA has a very large footprint her in Washington, but don’t know of many farmers and ranchers who are actively engaged in the process here,” Ernst said. It would make sense to move the agency headquarters to places directly affected by its decisions “like Iowa and Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas.”

She can’t put a figure on the cost savings — and acknowledged there would be one-time costs to relocate the agencies, but Ernst said office space in the Washington area rents for about $59 a square foot. In Des Moines, the cost is about $18.

Salaries in Washington area offices reflect the high cost of living there. Moving the headquarters to other parts of the country would result in savings, she added.

“Not only will we save federal dollars, but decisions made in the areas affected by those agencies would be much better for Americans,” Ernst said.

To see the Swamp Act, visit www.ernst.senate.gov/public/.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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