Arnold Ahlert / December 19, 2016

Spread Federal Government Wealth Around

The idea of moving various bureaucracies around the nation gains steam.

What if there were a way to simultaneously “drain the swamp” and “make America great again?” Even more astounding, what if the appeal for doing so was met with approval from both sides of the political divide? The idea is both doable and simple: move thousands of government jobs currently located in Washington, DC, into areas of the country where people need an economic boost. In short, it’s time we de-centralized our overly centralized federal government.

“Many of the residents of Washington and its suburbs feel protected by their secure and steady federal employment and have a sense of safety that is unknown among the residents of cities and towns that have seen factories and mines close down one after the other for decades,” writes columnist Kyle Sammin. “Trump could give them a greater sense of security by giving them access to those same federal jobs.”

Protected is a bit of an understatement. Coddled would be more accurate. When measured by median income, the four richest counties in the United States are all suburbs of DC. According to 2015 Census Bureau data, the median household income in Loudoun County, Virginia, was $125,900 in 2015. In Falls Church City, Virginia, it was $122,092. In Fairfax County, Virginia, it was $112,844. And in Howard County, Maryland, it was $110,224.

The median income in the rest of the nation? Just $55,755 — as in less than half that of those located in the nation’s nexus of federal power.

Angry yet? If not, here’s another log for the proverbial fire: “Each Locality Area has a Locality Pay Adjustment percentage, updated yearly, which specifies how much over the GS Base Pay government employees working within that locality will earn,” states the federal government’s website. “Therefore, localities with a higher cost of living have a higher adjustment percentage then cheaper localities.”

DC is one of those higher cost of living locales. How much higher? In 2016, Metro DC-area federal employees get a whopping 24.78% premium on top of their base federal pay. “Move enough workers out of expensive areas, and the savings to the taxpayers start to add up,” explains Sammin.

And not just savings from workers. “Moving federal agencies will bring additional cost savings,” notes the Washington Examiner’s Paul Kupiec. “Acquisition, building and maintenance costs will shrink, as will agency contracting costs, as contractors follow their agencies to new lower-wage locations. No doubt some federal agencies will still need to maintain a small footprint in the D.C. area to facilitate interaction with cabinet officials, but modern communications make it possible to locate the largest share of any agencies’ operational staff and facilities far outside the region.”

For a nation nearly $20 trillion in debt, this is the ultimate no-brainer.

Yet it gets better still. “In one bold move, it would bring the federal government closer to the people, reduce the threat a major act of terrorism would pose to our nation’s capital, and create new jobs and new infrastructure throughout the country,” states columnist Steven Price. “But, perhaps most importantly, it would renew faith that our government exists not to serve the wealthy or the connected, but all the people.”

Price has several suggestions where various agencies could be relocated. He envisions a Department of Defense located Tampa, Florida, “where it already has many key functions,” a Treasury Department in Philadelphia, “halfway between the financial capitals of New York and DC,” a Department of Homeland Security “in the heartland of the homeland,” and a State Department in New York City, “where most foreign governments already have a large presence,” to name a few.

He further imagines a government no longer beholden to the “insularity of the elites traveling the eastern Acela corridor.” Instead, he sees one comprised of federal workers who would interact with ordinary Americans in everyday settings such as at churches, and fairs, on soccer fields or in community meetings, “rather than as often happens in Washington, only with themselves.”

And for those who think this is strictly a conservative proposal, think again. Dedicated leftist Matthew Yglesias [envisions[( moving much of the federal workforce to the Midwest to cities that “were thriving two generations ago and where an enormous amount of infrastructure is in place,” he writes. “Midwestern states have acclaimed public university systems, airports that are large enough to serve as major hubs, and cities whose cultural legacies include major league pro sports teams, acclaimed museums, symphonies, theaters, and other amenities of big-city living.”

Yglesias further envisions the relocation of independent regulatory agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, etc., whose “close coordination with elected officials is explicitly contrary to their mandate” — and all of which are surrounded by “a swarm of highly paid lawyers, economists, and lobbyists who make careers out of influencing their decisions.” Relocating to places like “Detroit, Milwaukee, or Cincinnati, where they would create secondary jobs and bolster a larger regional economy,” Yglesias adds.

Perhaps — or perhaps not. Nothing epitomizes Beltway elitism better than that swarm of highly paid lawyers, economists and lobbyists, many of whom would undoubtedly blanch at the thought of trading in their tony Georgetown condos, or DC suburban spreads — along with their lavish, high-profile cocktail-circuit lifestyle — for an equally comfortable, but less glamorous existence among those they routinely dismiss as uneducated rubes in flyover country. Yet other than those people themselves and their elitist allies, who wouldn’t find it enormously gratifying to see these self-professed doyens of enlightened thinking taken down a notch or two? Or better still, in a fit of snobbery, giving up trying to unduly influence our elected officials altogether?

“For many years, the D.C. region has prospered from its proximity to the federal government while many parts of the country have suffered,” Kupiec asserts. “This longstanding imbalance has reinforced voters’ belief that the system is rigged to benefit insiders.”

That’s because it is. And as Sammin notes in a different column, what could be better than a proposal with bipartisan appeal for Republicans, who could trumpet “the savings to taxpayers,” and Democrats, who have long championed “reducing income inequality across the country?”

Price also sees “a massive infrastructure and stimulus undertaking” both sides could support, arising from the “buildings, roads and supporting structures that will have to be built to accommodate these new work forces.” He further believes the idea would engender a “mini-Manhattan project” to overhaul the nation’s woefully out-of-date cyber security system necessary to ensure secure communication between government agencies.

Of the many things the 2016 election revealed, one is the undeniable reality Americans are fed up with a federal government completely out of touch with their concerns. And while there is an obvious need to keep some government entities in Washington, DC, it is equally obvious the rest of the nation could benefit enormously from spreading the so-called wealth around — especially since we pay for it.

If there is a simpler way for Americans to become reacquainted with a government “of, by and for the people” one is hard-pressed to imagine what it is.

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