The case for breaking up Washington — and scattering government across America

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This topic contains 15 replies, has 10 voices, and was last updated by  Sterling Whitehead 9 years, 10 months ago.

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  • #106414

    Gary Berg-Cross

    The Washington Post had a story in Outline on The case for breaking up Washington — and scattering government across America

    The driving argument was that “Americans are angry at Washington, and it’s not hard to see why. Not only does the federal government seem more ineffectual than ever in the face of ongoing economic hardship, but the capital has so far coasted through the downturn relatively unscathed.”

    Part of the argument was:

    “Splintering the federal government holds both political benefits for the country and economic benefits for the regions to which jobs are dispersed, said Robert Rupp, a political scientist at West Virginia Wesleyan College — and a resident of a state that has enjoyed a very targeted form of federal job relocation, thanks to the late senator Robert Byrd. “If we begin with the fact that Washington has grown far bigger than the founders ever contemplated, and that voters are mean and mad and distrustful of Beltway politics, it makes sense,” he said.”

    What do you think?

  • #106444

    Sterling Whitehead

    I mistakenly assumed the article argued for uprooting Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court across the states.

    Instead, it argues for relocating the bureaucracy across the states. Interesting proposal. Definite advantages and disadvantages for both sides.

  • #106442

    Steve Ressler

    I’m generally a fan as I think this has an opportunity to increase the caliber of the government workforce and economic development for other states.

    For example, I like how CDC is headquartered in Atlanta.

    A lot of my gov’t friends have a hard time living in DC on gov’t wages so they’ve been moving back to Texas, Ohio, etc just so they can live a better life. But they’d love to stay in gov’t.

    The only downside I see is that this argument has been used for years with little traction. So more of a great theoretical than much chance in succeeding.

  • #106440

    Peter Sperry

    I would love to see my agency relocate to a midsized town in the Shenandoah Valley, or somewhere in the Smokies or Rockies (yeah, I like mountains), anywhere far from 395 and the beltway would be an improvement.

  • #106438

    Gary Berg-Cross

    BTW, one context for the story was the massive growth of the national security apparatus in the DC area since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Much of it concentrated among private contractors.
    Earlier in the week the Washington Post reported in a three-part series last week that:

    ” a good deal of this expansion has occurred in metro Washington, where 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work have been started or finished since the attacks, occupying nearly as much space as three Pentagons. All told, the government added 13,000 employees in the Washington area last year.”

    But it is not just Security,which is more concentrated in Washington. HHS has nearly half of its 64,000 employees in the metro area. The article asks, “If the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can thrive in Atlanta, why can’t some of the NIH or the FDA make a go of it in, say, St. Louis or Cleveland, cities with strong biomedical sectors?”

    One of the arguments for this is that “research suggests that in general, communities with a larger share of public employment are more likely to support government. “

  • #106436

    Steve Ressler

    I truly buy this argument….”research suggests that in general, communities with a larger share of public employment are more likely to support government. ”

    When in DC, people get what it means to be a fed and generally supportive.

    Go back to Ohio or Florida (areas I live) and people have no idea and its generally negative

  • #106434

    Gary Berg-Cross

    One thing about people buying into “support for the government ” where there is a “larger share of public employment” is that it can be selective. There are areas where there are large DoD and Intelligence-centric employment (say Huntsville AL) , which may be seen as OK, but other aspects of public employment less so.
    Temporary employment for the census seemed to be one example where there may have been such a divergence.

  • #106432


    Definately should be considered! Couldn’t the federal gov’t rent office spaces in bldgs. (or purchase bldgs) in various states/cities where gov’t workers can report (no matter what agency they work for) and do their job? A middle-ground approach….kinda like a satellite office — if telecommuting isn’t an option!?!

  • #106430

    Gary Berg-Cross

    @Harlan @tricia

    I agree that this article ( the the 3 on Intelligence) are more of a consciousness raising pair than a a hard hitting, solutions oriented piece taking on the problems.

    But there are some pieces in the latest that point in a direction and perhaps as Tricia inicated.

    Here are 2 pieces:

    “The key, Katz said, would be to focus less on moving a given unit of the government to a given place and more on creating “networks of federally supported institutions” such as “energy discovery institutes” or metropolitan planning organizations. For instance, he said, “Kansas City shouldn’t care if it gets a particular agency to relocate to its metropolis; rather, it should seek to have an advanced research institution — either standalone or at the metro university — that relates to its particular clusters and economic position.”

    “Katz’s colleague Amy Liu goes a step further: Many corporations, she notes, have moved away from the headquarters model to one in which executives are stationed in one city, research and development in another, marketing in a third and so on. Why not distribute federal tasks in a similar way? “

  • #106428

    Nichole Henley

    I think the implications of dispersing federal government needs to be more thoughtfully researched. Sure, transferring a large agency function to Idaho may boost that local economy, but to what extent? How would customer service be affected? Who will monitor that function? What are the travel costs associated with that Director who must travel back and forth to DC? (Let’s face it, you can’t communicate by VTC and telephone alone—I’m sure I’ll get a lot of flack about this but this is my opinion). Not to mention, if you have ever traveled to a desolate area that housed a federal function, you realize how obvious and monstrous nepotism is. How would you diversify local skills? How much training dollars will this cost? If you’re far from the DC area, how do you stay connected and relevant? Soo many more questions. But I do agree that the the current DC area is not what the founding fathers intended. But HELLO!!!! It’s called change! The founding fathers started a thought that continued to grow… I’m sure it was anticipated.

  • #106426

    Carol Davison

    We would first have to conduct a cost benefit analysis of relocating Federal employees. Yes they could pay me less in Idaho, but how much would it cost to move my agency there? Also, only Idahoans would work in that agency, limiting new ideas unlike the present system where I can get a new job/bring my new ideas in by just getting off at a different metro stop. If government can’t easily acquire new personnel/ideas they will only be as good as they ever were. This is why we have rotation progams. It seems to me we will always have to have HQ co-located (in DC is logical) so a majority of jobs and high grades will be there. That is why I work in DC. I couldn’t imagine moving around the country to get a high grade.

  • #106424


    I think diversity is important.

    How diverse is our Federal government with all agencies located in the same 62.5 square miles. Not everyone wants to live in the 9th largest metropolitan city in the US – or subject their children to it – crime, pollution, conjestion, cost of living – many people ask themselves is it really worth it? I’m sure there are many people who have made the decision to not move to DC to get the high grade.

    The everyday way of life also varies across the US. West Coast is certainly different than East Coast. Perspective will differ – and this impacts agencies. What is the difference if everyone is in DC or in Idaho, you still limit ideas, right??

    Thinking back to 9/11…. The UK’s royal family makes it a habit to not travel together as a group. Their worried about the line of succession and what would happen if all were to perish in some accident/event. Closer to home — What if terrorists attack DC? Everyone there at a great number of agencies are unable to work. Who’s running the show if all 63 miles were impacted?

    Finally, studies, surveys, research indicates that more and more workers are looking for jobs/careers that supplement their lives outside of work. This being the case, not diversifying Federal employment to multiple locations/states may end up hurting them. I know that I want the best and the brightest working for government – but with less flexibility on location (I know plenty of people who have left the cold and snow vowing never to return) – it may end up costing the Federal government, as Carol said “If government can’t easily acquire new personnel/ideas they will only be as good as they ever were”.

  • #106422

    Bill Brantley

    I wonder what impact ROWE and distributed computing tools will have on the federal workforce by 2020. Given the advances in cloud computing, telepresence, and social networking tools, maybe the federal government will be completely distributed in that federal employees can physically live where they like and work in the virtual workspace.

  • #106420

    Rob Ahern

    As a Federal employee in a non-DC location, I can say that there are real benefits to living outside to Washington, DC area. Funny how folks congregated on an alternative location like Idaho- nothing like going to an extreme! Far from Boise, our office is in Raleigh, NC and it’s a wonderful place to live. I grew up in Northern Virginia and I’m very familiar with the pros and cons of the region; decentralization of government work locations not only makes sense, it should be an imperative. We’re funded by taxpayer dollars and it only seems fair that those resources should be redistributed throughout the country as opposed to being consolidated in Fairfax County. The idea that “locals” will staff these locations is ridiculous; very few of my coworkers are from NC and many Fed’s would prefer not to live in DC for economic reasons, family considerations, and general convenience. Given the (much) lower costs of living, lower office space prices, and greater worker happiness, overall savings more than pay for flights to DC when VTC isn’t sufficient. Increased use of cloud solutions will make this a reality more quickly, and I’m looking forward to it!

  • #106418

    Paul Eric Davis

    Thank you, Harlan. This post says it all. It’s not as if all Fed employees are in DC. And there are huge efficiencies to be gained when the HQ for major branches of Fed government are in close proximity: knowledge, access to talent, consistent processes, etc. But since 83% of Fed employees aren’t in DC, this doesn’t make great sense. FINALLY, rather than dispersing everyone away from DC, I think more Americans citizens and gov officials should spend time there. They should visit the Jefferson Memorial, Library of Congress, Lincoln Memorial and more in order to LEARN and REMEMBER what government can be. Most of the knee-jerk, anti-Washington rhetoric is coming from people who seem to have forgotten those concepts.

  • #106416

    Paul Eric Davis

    I won’t name them here, but I there are numerous states in which I would not want the HQ for major Federal functions to be located. Having the nation beholden to a staff that disproportionally hails from some specific states is a frightening thought.

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