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EDITORIAL: Moving federal agencies outside the Beltway

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue must feel like Oliver Wendell Douglas on “Green Acres” — a beacon of sanity and sense tossing about on a sea of folly and absurdity.

Mr. Perdue drew the stink-eye from department bureaucrats last August when he announced his intention to shift more than 500 jobs in two agencies from Washington, D.C., to Kansas City. The idea is to save costs and improve customer service by bringing the government closer to the people it is supposed to represent — the Midwest, after all, is home to a significant chunk of the nation’s agricultural producers.

It’s a great idea that should be replicated by other federal departments, including those with a heavy presence in Nevada. But, naturally, the entrenched establishment and their Democratic enablers are reaching for the pearls.

An outside accounting firm hired by the USDA calculated the move would save taxpayers $300 million over the next 15 years in employment costs and rent. Employees would also benefit by escaping the high cost of living in the D.C. area for a more affordable locale. It should be a no-brainer.

But change to a bureaucrat is like rehab to an addict — it’s to be avoided at all costs. At a meeting last week, USDA employees expressed their displeasure by turning their backs on Mr. Perdue as he delivered an address. House Democrats have also introduced legislation to block the move.

“Secretary Perdue continually speaks of transparency and communicating to employees,” one USDA union member told CNN, “but has failed on both fronts.” He called the relocation effort “cold-hearted.”

Oh, please. Mr. Perdue should be celebrated for his innovation and fiscal acumen. Employees aren’t required to move, so why the fuss? Private-sector workers in many industries are transferred. Where is it written that federal agencies must be clustered inside the Beltway, cocooned near their legislative patrons?

The Trump administration should consider similarly dispersing other government agencies. Two years ago, former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced he would investigate moving the Bureau of Land Management’s headquarters to the Western United States. Such a plan makes eminent sense — and Nevada, the state with the highest percentage of federal acreage within its borders, would be an ideal location.

The Department of Agriculture has more than 100,000 employees, many of whom are already scattered throughout the country. If Mr. Perdue can save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, the attitude ought to be “Kansas City, here we come.” And in the meantime, Mr. Zinke’s replacement at Interior, David Bernhardt, should move forward with plans to relocate the BLM’s headquarters nearer the Western communities over which it runs herd.

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