Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney speaks during a media availability at the Environmental Protection Agency in June.

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney speaks during a media availability at the Environmental Protection Agency in June. Alex Brandon / AP

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Mulvaney: Relocating Offices is a 'Wonderful Way' to Shed Federal Employees

White House chief of staff shares the administration's real objective in moving agencies outside of Washington.

Mick Mulvaney demonstrated remarkable candor over the weekend when addressing a push by the Trump administration to move federal employees outside Washington, D.C.

During a Republican party event in his home state of South Carolina on Friday, the acting White House chief of staff largely dispensed with the administration’s favored talking points that moving some Agriculture Department offices to Kansas City would get federal employees closer to the constituents they serve. Instead, Mulvaney said the relocations would help the administration attain another goal: draining the swamp, specifically by shedding federal employees. 

“I don't know if you saw the news the other day, but the USDA moved two offices out of Washington, D.C., I think to Kansas City, Missouri,” Mulvaney boasted, while encouraging applause. “Guess what happened. Guess what happened. More than half the people quit.” (USDA has not yet decided if the offices will be in Kansas or Missouri.)

Mulvaney, who retains his title as Office of Management and Budget director and formerly headed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, went on to explain that the outcome of employees leaving in large numbers was a great victory for the administration. 

“Now, it’s nearly impossible to fire a federal worker,” he said. “I know that because a lot of them work for me. And I’ve tried. And you can’t do it. But simply saying to the people, you know what, we’re going to take you outside the bubble, outside the Beltway, outside this liberal haven and move you out into the real part of the country, and they quit. What a wonderful way to streamline government and do what we haven’t been able to do for a long time.” 

More than half of employees at USDA’s Economic Research Service and the National Institutes of Food and Agriculture, the two offices moving to Kansas City, have not accepted their relocation orders. Agriculture originally told employees they had through September to make up their minds, but has since decided to enforce a July 15 deadline with limited exceptions in cases of hardship. The department was also set to provide telework and relocation incentives to those who agree to move, but subsequently retracted those offers. 

Separately, the Interior Department announced last month it was moving its Bureau of Land Management headquarters out of Washington and into Grand Junction, Colorado. While the administration touted the move for months, it ultimately decided to place just 27 positions at the new headquarters while leaving 61 in Washington, D.C. An additional 220 employees will move to various existing offices in western states. 

Prior to Mulvaney’s comments, administration officials were careful to explain the moves as advancing the missions of agencies while saving taxpayer dollars. Joe Balash, Interior's assistant secretary for land and mineral management, said the moves would help redistribute “institutional knowledge” throughout BLM and foster the development of a new generation of leadership.  

Mulvaney, however, said the Trump administration’s efforts would combat liberals' hard work at “making sure government lives forever and that it gets bigger.”