February 23, 2021

Van Hollen and Wexton Introduce Legislation to Ensure Transparency in Federal Agency Relocations

Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) introduced the Conducting Oversight to Secure Transparency (COST) of Relocations Act to require a federal agency undergoing a proposed relocation to conduct and make public a cost-benefit analysis of the move before it is carried out. 

The COST of Relocations Act would help safeguard against attempts to force federal employees out of their jobs or stifle inconvenient scientific research through the auspices of agency relocations and ensure accountability to Congress and taxpayers on how exactly those agency relocations would benefit the American people. Van Hollen and Wexton first introduced the COST of Relocations Act in the 116th Congress following the previous administration’s forced relocation of two Department of Agriculture research agencies in 2019.

“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. I’m glad to team up with Congresswoman Wexton on this important effort,” said Senator Van Hollen.

“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,” said Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton.“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.”

“The decision to relocate a federal agency shouldn’t be taken lightly, and shouldn’t be undertaken without a thorough analysis to make sure that it is in the best interest of the agency, its employees, and public they serve,” said American Federation of Government Employees National President Everett Kelley. “We strongly support the COST of Relocations Act because it will prevent agencies from being relocated in retaliation for conducting work that political leadership doesn’t agree with or as a way to dramatically reduce the workforce – things we saw under the Trump Administration.  Instead, this bill will ensure that a thorough, unbiased cost-benefit analysis is conducted before a federal agency can be relocated.”  

“The COST Act will help ensure Congress and the American people have the information they need to analyze the plans of federal agencies before relocating across the country,” said Tim Stretton, policy analyst at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO). “POGO commends Rep. Wexton and Senator Van Hollen for introducing this critically important piece of legislation to improve oversight.”

“Scientists working in federal agencies need better support from Congress to help our nation fight the COVID-19 pandemic, systemic racism and the climate crisis,” said Rebecca Boehm, Economist, Food and Environment program with the Union of Concerned Scientists. “If it becomes law, the COST of Relocations Act is an important first step in protecting government scientists and the work they do to ensure our safety and health.” 

Under the COST of Relocations Act, federal agencies would be required 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, and short- and long-term impacts on the ability of the agency to carry out its mission. The results would be submitted to the agency’s Inspector General for review and made available to the public. 

In 2019, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) moved two federal research agencies, the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), from Washington, DC, to the Kansas City region. Only about 25% of the employees actually made the move with their agency, largely due to a haphazard relocation process. As a result, the agencies reported significant delays and reductions in work capacity. A third-party full cost-benefit analysis of the move was never released to the public or to Congress. In a similar circumstance, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded that the relocation of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) headquarters to Grand Junction, Colorado, last year did not conduct a full cost-benefit analysis during its move.

The COST of Relocations Act is endorsed by Project on Government Oversight (POGO), Union of Concerned Scientists, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), and the National WIC Association. 

The legislation is cosponsored by Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Mark Warner (D-VA) and Representatives Don Beyer (D-VA), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Anthony Brown (D-MD), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Bill Foster (D-IL), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), John Sarbanes (D-MD), and Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA). 

The full text of the bill can be found here.