Reprinted from the Sioux City Journal March 29.
Imagine moving U.S. Department of Agriculture headquarters to Iowa, in the heart of farm country.
Still, in our minds, it’s an idea with merit. That’s why we are intrigued with a bill sponsored in the Senate by Republican Joni Ernst of Iowa called the Strategic Withdrawal of Agencies for Meaningful Placement, or SWAMP, Act.
Draining the “swamp” that is Washington, D.C., was a favorite presidential campaign theme of Donald Trump.
Ernst’s bill proposes to repeal the section of U.S. Code under which federal agencies must be located in Washington so agency headquarters could move (national-security agencies, including the Department of Defense, would be exempt). The legislation would establish a competitive bidding process through which individual cities and states could compete to be the new homes for those agencies.
“Currently, the headquarters of nearly all executive branch agencies are clustered in and around Washington, D.C., concentrating hundreds of thousands of jobs in the region,” according to a statement from Ernst’s office. “The SWAMP Act aims to distribute agency headquarters over geographically diverse areas and among the people most impacted by the effects of agency decisions. The 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.”
We have questions about exactly how this immense shift in approach would evolve, of course, but we support more discussion of Ernst’s SWAMP Act. It strikes us as a way to improve the effectiveness of federal agencies through a strengthened, outside-the-beltway connection between them and the Americans they serve and impact; boost the economies of states other than those bordering the nation’s capital; and save money through, for example, cheaper leases on space (Ernst said office space in the Washington area rents for about $59 per square foot versus $18 in Des Moines) and lower salaries due to lower costs of living in other parts of the country for agency employees.
We are under no illusions about this bill’s chances for passage, but it deserves more than a casual shrug. Frankly, talking about an idea like this one is a better use of time than much of what happens in Washington.