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Wondering if federal agencies (e.g., IRS, Dept of Agriculture, etc.) could physically be moved out of Washington DC? What if the IRS, for example, was relocated to Duluth MN or Elko NV, etc.). Or Dept of Agriculture to Guymon OK. You get the picture... Advantages? Disadvantages?

As for advantages - deconstruction and dispersal of federal bureaucracy? (If you want to work for the IRS, you'd have to move to and live in Duluth). Would also make the federal government more redundant in, say, a time of war? As for disadvantages - obviously the cost of accomplishing this?

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    Not sure what you mean. The IRS, FBI, and many other agencies and bureaus have field offices across the country. In other words, you can already work in an office for the IRS and live in Kansas City, for example.
    – bishop
    Oct 10, 2022 at 4:03
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    What I'm missing about this question is the problem. Why shouldn't it be possible? Do you maybe mean to ask why it didn't happen in the past? Or do you want to discuss potential advantages and disadvantages? Oct 10, 2022 at 7:09
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    What research have you done? This is frequently proposed. There have been efforts to relocate e.g. the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management moved to Colorado. So a lot of bureaucracy is in DC, but there are agencies elsewhere - CDC in Atlanta - and it's possible to move many workers - most of NASA's operations are far from its DC HQ.
    – Stuart F
    Oct 10, 2022 at 9:42
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    There are practical issues, e.g. I don't know how many tax experts live in Elko, NV (population 20,396), or how much office space. But moving to New York or Chicago might be less of an issue (although if the goal is to save money, staying in DC might be cheaper). Have you looked at how IRS workers are currently distributed? And are you proposing moving some or all operations? It would be odd if the IRS, which is heavily dependent on federal laws, did not have an office in DC.
    – Stuart F
    Oct 10, 2022 at 9:48

3 Answers 3

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Yes, this could be done legally. Indeed, every now and then, headquarters of government agencies one level below that of a cabinet agency are relocated.

For example, the creation of the "Space Force" effectively moved a big piece of the Air Force headquarters to a new location.

The Department of Interior has likewise experimented with moving bureau headquarters within the agency to non-D.C. locations.

As the question notes, it costs money. It probably also shakes up, for better or worse, the ranks of senior civil servants who have homes in the metro D.C. area who might quit and take a job in private industry rather than relocate. And, a major disadvantage would be the likelihood that an agency without a headquarters in D.C. would be less effective in lobbying for funds in Congressional budget battles.

It could be an economic development/political pork measure (compare Amtrak which specifically devises routes that maximize the number of members of Congress who have a route in their district, or defense contracts that try to parcel out the work on the contract to as many districts as possible to build political support for their bid in Congress), but moving to an area with a sagging local economy again, as the question suggests, could impair recruitment of the best candidates for top civil service positions.

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The pedant in me feels the need to note that not only is it possible for a cabinet-level department to not be headquartered in Washington D.C., it is currently the case.

The Department of Defense is headquartered in The Pentagon, which is located in Arlington, Virginia. Arlington is of course right across the bridge from Washington D.C., but it is not located within the federal district. Many other power sub-cabinet level departments are also located in the areas of Maryland and Virginia surrounding the capital, including the CIA, FBI, and NIH.

That just goes to show that legally there is nothing keeping the departments within the district. These departments are headquartered in the DMV area for convenience, but there's nothing keeping Congress from telling the DoD they have to relocate to Richmond, Virginia or Atlanta, Georgia or Juneau, Alaska if it suits their fancy.

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    I thought the NHS was based in the UK. Also, Raleigh is in North Carolina, and while I can guess at what you mean by DMV, I might be wrong.
    – phoog
    Oct 13, 2022 at 2:32
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    @phoog: DMV = DC, Maryland, and Virginia. According to a friend who lives in the area, it's a popular abbreviation there. Of course, to the rest of the country, DMV = Department of Motor Vehicles, the place where you have to wait in an annoyingly long line to renew your driver's license.
    – dan04
    Oct 13, 2022 at 3:43
  • And maybe NHS = National Highway System?
    – dan04
    Oct 13, 2022 at 3:45
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    @phoog, lol, I meant NIH of course! Located in Bethesda. I'll edit Oct 13, 2022 at 15:33
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    @dan04 I think people in the area like the double entendre of DMV being both the annoyingly bureaucratic Department of Motor Vehicles and the area full of bureaucrats. Oct 13, 2022 at 16:43
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There is no current legal barrier to it.

However, this topic is a subject of a partisan debate.

  • Republicans favor spreading Federal workers as much as possible throughout the country
  • Democrats favor an arrangement that is more stable for the Federal workers in allowing the Federal workers to make long-term life-changing decisions around their job choices.

For example, here's an announcement of a re-introduction of a bill

which would require an act of Congress before the headquarters for any federal entity located in the National Capital Region (NCR) may be moved out of the NCR.

The bill is sponsored by 5 Democrats.

In the announcement, it is a contrasted with a previous bill introduced by Republicans

which would require all executive branch agencies to move their headquarters out of the D.C. area and to only have 10 percent of their employees in the D.C. area by 2026


This "The Review" article goes through some other efforts by Republicans to introduce requirements to spread Federal job around the country. But as the article mentions

Bills like this have been sponsored for years in Congress with no success.

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    You should explain that you're linking to instead of just hiding the link under a useless word such as "here." The first link doesn't support the general assertion about democrats' positions on the question because it is a press release of the District's own representative.
    – phoog
    Oct 13, 2022 at 2:42
  • @phoog no it's not a a press release on the rep. It's a press release on a bill the rep, who is a D, introduced. And it lists 4 other D's who cosponsored the bill. And it contrasts it to the bill that R's introduced that does what I explained R's want. AND I mentioned that the link is to a partial list of bills dealing with the topic. Which it is. 2 of them.
    – wrod
    Oct 13, 2022 at 3:22
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    @wrod: Could you at least give a brief summary of the bills? Stack Exchange etiquette encourages answers to be self-contained instead of putting essential information behind links.
    – dan04
    Oct 13, 2022 at 18:41
  • I didn't say that it is a press release on the representative but of the representative, as in "published by." It is her press release.
    – phoog
    Oct 14, 2022 at 8:44

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