VHA remains a shameful mess (copy) (copy)

The Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston. Under Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley's thinking, South Carolina, home to defense hawk Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, should become the new home for the VA. File

If you hate big government, but love the Department of Veterans Affairs, this bill in Congress might be the one for you.

Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, who is no friend to those he calls bureaucratic policy-making elites, wants to drain the swamp so badly that he's filed legislation to move 90 percent of the federal workforce out of Washington.

The bill covers 10 agencies and potentially would mean setting up a migration of some 200,000 workers out of D.C.

Under Hawley's thinking, South Carolina, home to defense hawk Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, would become the new home for the VA.

Kentucky, a coal state where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hails from, would get the Department of Energy.

Other headquarters would likewise move to mostly red-leaning or swing states: Indiana, Health and Human Services; Michigan, Transportation; Missouri, Agriculture; Ohio, Housing and Urban Development; Pennsylvania, Commerce; New Mexico, Interior; Tennessee (where Senate GOP co-sponsor Marsha Blackburn is from), Education; and West Virginia, Labor.

Hawley pitched the plan as a means of spreading out and returning jobs to middle America by aligning federal departments with states that have a "geographic nexus" to the agency.

“Every year, Americans’ hard-earned tax dollars fund federal agencies that are mainly located in the D.C. bubble," Hawley said in announcing his HIRE Act, for Helping Infrastructure Restore the Economy Act.

"That’s a big part of the problem with Washington: they’re too removed from the rest of America," he said.

Needless to say, not a lot of people are taking this seriously, for now. Neither Graham nor the state's other Republican senator, Tim Scott, are co-sponsors.

"Any legislation that makes government more efficient and closer to the people is certainly worth consideration," Scott's office told Palmetto Politics, "but Sen. Scott is still reviewing the full bill."

The measure is so new that there hasn't been a Congressional Budget Office cost estimate done of what might the savings might be.

The bill will likely have at least one valuable South Carolina supporter in an influential position: Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

During a keynote speech earlier this year at the S.C. GOP’s annual Silver Elephant fundraising gala, the former S.C. congressman talked about how the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s controversial decision to move two of its research agencies from Washington, D.C., to Kansas City had prompted many employees to threaten to quit.

“It’s nearly impossible to fire a federal worker. I know that because a lot of them work for me, and I’ve tried and you can’t do it,” Mulvaney said, as reported by Palmetto Politics' Jamie Lovegrove.

“But, by simply saying to people, ‘You know what, we’re going to take you outside the bubble, outside the Beltway, outside this liberal haven of Washington, D.C., and move you out into a real part of the country,’ and they quit. What a wonderful way to sort of streamline government and do what we haven’t been able to do for a long time.”

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There's that "bubble" word again.

Uprooting thousands of VA workers from the D.C. suburbs to South Carolina might not automatically mean a measurable increase in delivery of care to the more than 400,000 veterans living in the state, since most of them get their service through already established brick-and-mortar hospitals and clinics.

There'd also have to be a lot of planning and debate over deciding where those staffers would land in the state. 

David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, issued a statement panning the idea.

“Eighty-five percent of federal employees already live outside the nation’s capital — caring for veterans, supporting our military, processing Social Security and other federal benefits, and carrying out other vital work serving citizens across the country," he said.

"It is neither cost-effective nor practical to relocate the headquarters of federal agencies away from Washington, where Congress is best equipped to hold political appointees and agency leaders accountable for their actions," his statement continued.

One cautionary angle to note is that if Hawley's bill ever does become a reality, the nation's federal city becomes dominated by one entity: the Pentagon.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 843-937-5551. Follow him on Twitter at @skropf47.

Political Editor

Schuyler Kropf is The Post and Courier political editor. He has covered every major political race in South Carolina dating to 1988, including for U.S. Senate, governorship, the Statehouse and Republican and Democratic presidential primaries.