NYT Op-Ed: To Change Washington, Move Out

Today’s Daily Pipeline by the Partnership for Public Service shares a fascinating Op-Ed from Mark Everson in the New York Times. The long and short of the article is that true change would come to Washington only if people actually left the city. With government being centralized in Washington, it creates a serious risk for security and continuity of operations. Plus, the region already has considerable wealth – why not spread those jobs to other parts of the country that could benefit from rejuvenation?

As you’ve seen from my posts here, I am interested in the impact of the four generations in the workforce and Web 2.0 on government. From this vantage point, Everson’s proposal to restructure government by moving jobs outside of the Beltway is appealing for several reasons:

(1) As Boomers retire, they will most likely want to relocate to be closer to children and grandchildren or to work from more attractive locations. Surveys indicate that Boomers plan to cycle between work and leisure. They don’t need to be in Washington to make an ongoing contribution. With a cell phone and laptop, they could be in Port Jervis, NY, Puerto Rico or Portugal.

(2) With their proficiency for using technology, Gen X and Millennials will work from anywhere. Why relocate to Washington when they can perform job functions right where they live? As someone who grew up in towns with populations under 1,000 people in Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa, I am sensitive to the fact that communities across the U.S. have experienced a “brain drain” as people like me and my former classmates left small-town life to find urban opportunities. Citizens across the country can fulfill government activities as Federal employees without being in the Washington metropolitan area. Consider: as government has outsourced functions to the private sector, contractors are most likely accomplishing the same tasks through decentralized, remote team members. Plus, decentralizing government expands and enhances the labor pool by attracting a broader (and more representative?) segment of American society.

(3) Social networks like GovLoop allow for people to connect with one another and mitigate the distance caused by geography. Not only that, but virtual worlds like Second Life and video technology offered by companies like Cisco and Tandberg will enable us to communicate with one another as if were in the same room. Granted, it’s not the same thing as being live and in person, but we can approximate the experience. In addition, one might contend that the balance of work and life that emerges from teleworking situations allows people to spend more time with their families and at their schools, churches and community groups.

Those are just three reasons why I think this proposal has some validity and virtue. What are your thoughts?

For more information about the impact of the four generations and Web 2.0 on government, please visit my blog: http://generationshift.blogspot.com

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Profile Photo Emma Dozier

I think…I can’t wait to get out of D.C.! With the military, though – even on the Web team – we aren’t even allowed to work from home, however close that may be (in this area, usually it’s an hour and a half commute one way!). Not sure how it is at other government organizations, but secure network connections and various firewall issues make the open culture of the Interwebs almost impossible to access.

If anyone praises Gov. Palin, though, you know one of the reasons is because she’s a Washington outsider. Groupthink definitely has a control on this town, and that is especially dangerous when the country it is controlling is as big as ours!

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Profile Photo Andrew Krzmarzick

Good thoughts, Emma. Some functions must be performed onsite, and it sounds like your role requires you to be in Washington at the facility where you accomplish your duties. I would be curious to see if anyone has estimated the relative percentage of the activities in their agency that must be performed onsite versus those that would be suitable for telework. I am going to see if I can track that down…maybe a subsequent post!

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Profile Photo Steve Ressler

Good post. There’s been a long tradition of advocates trying to move some government HQers out of D.C. but it never seems to hold. I do think it is a good idea. The CDC is headquartered in Atlanta and seems to work well.

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Profile Photo Ray Vaudo

Hi Andy. During the latter years of my federal career with the IRS, I served in several senior leadership positions while being stationed in Southern California. After my retirement, those that succeeded me also were able to serve in the same position while being stationed in places other than Washington, D.C. Regardless of our official duty locations, those placed in these positions were able to effectively lead a geographically dispersed and culturally diverse workforce to accomplish the organizational mission. During the major IRS reorganization that occurred early this decade, insightful executives recognized that aspects of the organization could be effectively led from places other than the DC area. Instead of automatically defaulting to DC-based positions, some IRS components decided to open up key positions nationwide in an effort to attract the best talent for certain positions. That is, they focused on the work that needed to be done and not merely on the traditional location of the position. Those leaders that were selected from outside of the Beltway quickly learned to use available technology to its fullest and even turned the time zone changes to their advantage by electronically moving time sensitive work projects from east to west to elongate available work hours without having to force eastern-based employees to work longer workdays. I would like encourage Federal agencies to approach the placement of key staff with an open mind in order to maximize their effectiveness and to retain talent and recognize their most valuable resource — their employees and leaders.

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