“Why are we spending billions of dollars on these headquarters in Washington, when there is all this unused office space outside of Detroit where the FBI could build for not much money,” asks economics scholar Paul Kupiec.
Because “it will cost taxpayers a fortune, spread dysfunction throughout the bureaucracy and economically devastate the region,” responds Eleanor Holmes Norton. Eleanor serves D.C. in the House of Representatives but does not actually get to vote. The region she claims will see such devastation is her home District of Columbia. There is one little flaw in her logic. “Five out of ten of the richest counties in the country are located in Washington. Something is wrong here,” Republican Warren Davidson answers.
Tucson, Arizona Democrat and seasoned denizen of the swamp, Raul Grijalva, is offended by Interior Secretary Zinke’s plans to move the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Reclamation. They are slated to head West of the Mississippi where they can actually do some good. Zinke and his many supporters insist that “Ninety-nine percent of the nearly 250 million acres of land managed by BLM is west of the Mississippi River, and having the decision makers present in the communities they impact in Colorado or across the region will lead to better results.”
Grijalva doesn’t like it. “This reorganization is an exercise in weakening the Department of Interior by driving employees out.” Out where they can interact with those they regulate instead of Grijalva’s lobbyist backers.
Despite similar outrage by many career politicians and administrators, out to protect their cozy corner of the swamp, experts agree breaking up the tightly knotted Washington cliques makes a lot of sense. “This is not a crazy idea,” insists professor David Fontana. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee liked the idea enough to recently pass a “Divest D.C.” resolution, asking “all agencies to investigate moving out.”
The idea has been around since Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was the liberal Democrat Roosevelt, the one that came up with the new deal and welfare, not the rough-riding Republican that went to war with Cuba. Roosevelt’s advisors told him what a great idea it would be to send 30,000 federal workers out to the Midwest, just to make sure federal employees remain “one of the people in touch with the people” and do “not degenerate into isolated and arrogant” bureaucrats. Despite the best of intentions, the idea never materialized.
As soon as he took office this year, Ohio Republican Warren Davidson dusted off the idea and introduced the “Drain the Swamp Act” back in April. That phrase did not earn him any brownie points with the Democrats, even if they did think the idea up in the first place. One Democrat, Tim Ryan from Youngstown, Ohio, may not like the name but he does agree with the idea. Ryan wants to form a commission to identify departments that might work better if based outside Washington. “We need to find out what we can move,” he proclaimed.
Why not move the Department of Agriculture to Iowa? Maybe move the FBI to Detroit. How about the Department of labor working out of Toledo? “Our government belongs to all Americans and communities across the United States should be able to benefit from the economic boost these employment centers could bring, especially to economically distressed places.” Ryan points out how it would permit “cities like Cleveland or Detroit to share in the economic development that comes from playing host to part of the federal government.”
“The nation should be proud of Washington, D.C. and its historic role but the Founding Fathers could not have imagined our current federal government system, with more than 300,000 federal workers in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area in 190 federally-owned buildings and 500 leased buildings,” Ryan explains.
With the internet and modern technology for remote conferencing and virtual collaboration, the time is ripe to carry out Roosevelt’s suggestion. For instance, the way the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, for years but still remain fully effective as an administrative branch.
Moving the Department of Transportation to Los Angeles makes sense to Democrat Rep. Ro Khanna who’s district encompasses Silicon Valley. “There is a lot of wisdom outside the Beltway,” he agrees. He saw major benefits when the Defense Department set up a local base of operations to better coordinate with tech companies. Also, he says, “fading factory and farm towns are well positioned to benefit” from such relocations.
Professor Fontana, who teaches at George Washington University Law School points out that tight-knit clusters of Washington worker bees allow the administrators to isolate from those affected by their decisions. “When you have this concentration of important people all in a single place, they form their own tight networks immune to other influences. Decentralizing that power away from the capital has long been a trend in other countries.”