February 17, 2023

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

Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Representative Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) announced the introduction of the Conducting Oversight to Secure Transparency (COST) of Relocations Act to require any federal agency preparing to relocate to conduct and release to the public a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of the proposed move before it is carried out. The legislation comes after a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that found that the previous administration’s relocation of two U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) research agencies in 2019 led to a decline in workforce size and productivity.

“Moving any federal agency has far-reaching implications for federal workers and their families, taxpayer funds, and the economy of the surrounding communities. Congresswoman Wexton and I are working together on this bill to ensure that big decisions like these are made thoughtfully and driven by the best interests of the American people and their tax dollars,” said Senator Van Hollen, Chairman of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees funding for federal government real estate.

"The recent GAO report examining the Trump administration’s relocation of two USDA research agencies shines new light on just how devastating the moves were on the agencies' mission and workforce – and we cannot let this kind of haphazard move happen again,” said Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton. “I’m proud to take a stand with Senator Van Hollen to prevent these types of politically motivated attacks on our nonpartisan federal workforce and defend the integrity of the essential work our civil servants perform for the country. The impacts of any relocation can and must be fully evaluated and deserve to be made clear to the agency's workforce and the American public.”

The COST of Relocations Act would put in place necessary guardrails to protect against politically motivated attempts to relocate federal agencies that could cripple their ability to effectively carry out their missions and force federal employees out of their jobs. 

Under the legislation, federal agencies would be required to conduct a cost-benefit analysis in accordance with federal guidelines for "best practices" for undertaking such a review. These best practices would require an analysis of both quantitative data, such as the costs of real estate and staffing, and qualitative metrics necessary to the success of federal agencies, such as 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 of this analysis would be submitted to the agency’s Inspector General for review and then made available to the public.

“AFGE applauds Representative Wexton for reintroducing the COST of Relocations Act to fight the uprooting and diminishing of institutional knowledge and expertise at federal agencies. AFGE strongly supports a fully funded and staffed up federal government which includes ensuring agencies do not close, consolidate, or get relocated,” said AFGE National President Everett Kelley.

“The COST Act would make sure that federal agencies are able to serve the public interest effectively and efficiently without the disruption of an unnecessary relocation. The 2019 relocation of two USDA research agencies from Washington, DC to Kansas City, Missouri, was a case study in the potential harms of a politically motivated relocation: The agencies lost 75 percent of their staff, delaying research and grants that support farmers, veterans and others, and digging a hole that took years to even begin to climb out of. The public deserves transparency and accountability from our government and should be able to feel confident that any future relocations have been carefully considered and judged in the best interest of the agency and those they serve,” said Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) Deputy Director of Food and Environment Karen Perry Stillerman.

During the 2019 relocation of the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) from Washington, DC, to the Kansas City region, the Trump administration refused to publicly release a full third-party cost-benefit analysis, obscuring the many detrimental impacts to the workforce and mission of the agencies which have now been revealed through the GAO report.

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

The legislation is cosponsored by Representatives Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), David Trone (D-Md.), Don Beyer (D-Va.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).

The full text of the bill can be found here.