Does the Federal Government Have to Be in Washington?
Want to decentralize the federal government, start by decentralizing where the federal government resides. That’s the suggestion from economist Paul Kupiec, who suggests that there’s no real reason why all federal agencies need to be in the nation’s capital.
Kupiec says if the federal government really wants to spread the wealth around, one way to do it would be to let agencies that don’t need to operate in Washington build their headquarters around the country.
Kupiec noted that the FBI and the Labor Department are both ready to move to new buildings. They’ve outgrown the aging facilities where they are housed currently. Combined, the construction costs alone could top $3.5 billion, a pricey bill that not only could benefit other areas, but could actually come down if agencies were built outside the bubble that surrounds the nation’s capital.
But construction costs are not the only consideration for moving these agencies
To understand the potential impact of moving a federal-agency headquarters out of Washington, consider what relocating the FBI headquarters to Detroit would do. Moving 11,000 FBI employees would hardly make a dent in the D.C. economy. Over 275,000 people—over 14% of the workforce—are federal-government employees, according to the Office of Personnel Management. In contrast, 11,000 well-paid federal government jobs and $2.5 billion in construction spending would provide a significant boost to the Detroit economy, where less than 2% of the workforce are federal employees. …
It would also be healthy for the country to more broadly distribute the wealth and power of federal-government agencies across the nation.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 11 of the 20 richest U.S. counties—including the three richest counties—are in the Washington, D.C., metro area. Incomes near the national capital are bloated not only by generous federal-government payrolls, but also by ‘Beltway bandit’ consultancy firms that provide contract services to federal agencies. It is little wonder that many Americans view the federal government as a money machine for bureaucrats and political insiders.
Besides reduced construction and maintenance costs, smaller federal payrolls due to cost of living adjustments, and less bloat from special interests, there’s another reason for moving some of the federal government out of Washington.
The concentration of federal agencies in a single area increases the potential for a breakdown of government services in the event of a terrorist attack, a snowstorm, a hurricane, or even the increasingly frequent service interruptions on the Metro, the Washington area’s troubled subway system.
Sure, agencies outside the capital would need to keep liaison offices for cabinet officials and Congress, but modern communications make it easy to decentralize.
Ultimately, Washington is viewed with disdain by many Americans who are disconnected from the administrative functions of government and who look at Washington as an insiders club. To improve perception, and possibly even increase efficiency, it could be helpful and cost-effective to relocate the bureaucracy into the heartland, giving people a closer look at and a larger stake in how government operates.