In a previous column, I proposed a “Hunger Games Plan” to rein in the out-of-control federal government: move each Cabinet department to a small town far away from Washington, D.C, where the specialized functions would resemble the districts in the movie. The idea is more than just a movie reference, and today I want to explore how the centralized location of American power has a negative effect on the relationship between citizen and government. Here are few reasons why dispersing executive departments is more than a modest proposal.
In the last fifteen years, there has been one geographic bright spot in the American economy: Washington, D.C. and its environs, where home values soar, good raises are common, and low unemployment is the norm. No matter the economic strain for the rest of the country, D.C. is booming. Creating even more cognitive dissonance, Americans have reached a generational low in their trust of the federal government and it competence but they still see a failing D.C. prospering at the expense of the rest of us!
Think of it: even as real wages continue to fall for the middle class, those who make their living lobbying and providing services for that government are thriving. Six of the ten richest counties in the United States are in and around The Capitol. Important government jobs must pay high salaries with great benefits. And, the rationalization continues, the good and talented people we “need” to run government prefer to live in affluent neighborhoods with good schools. All this creates a vicious circle: Americans pay more to hire in and around D.C.
According to Glassdoor, an Environmental Protection Agency manager’s salary is $134,000 per year. When you add subsidized healthcare, pension, and bonuses, that manager is making four times the average income of a family of four. And that’s not even a director level. I’m not trying to pick on the EPA, but I’m willing to bet the same lifestyle could be had for half that in most states. Are there no citizens that can do the job for a total of $80,000 in Omaha, Nebraska?
Service and Accountability
Dispersing cabinet departments and their employees throughout the country will have a positive effect on their quality of service. I think people who work for the government are decent enough. However, it is logical that those who reside in these six of the ten richest counties in America are not in touch with how their various bureaucracies and their endless reams of regulation are making a hash of local businesses and communities in places that aren’t so affluent.
Placing cabinet department headquarters across the nation would force bureaucrats to live in and among a population that does not benefit from special perks and is not as insulated from government-imposed economic screw-ups. Having more friends whose livelihoods don’t depend upon taxes cannot help but have a beneficial effect for those who pay the taxes that run government.
Lobbying And Luxury
The problem in Washington is not just money — it’s status. Moving departmental directors to Eugene, Oregon takes away the glitzy nightlife that allows the sordid spectacle of White House party crashers getting reality shows on Bravo. The money paid to “influence” government is focused on D.C. power. Today, a staff member to a powerful Senator can retire and earn a million dollars as a lobbyist or consultant. That said, the practice of speaking to and working with the government will not be affected. Dispersing the departments to less glamorous cities will cut back on multi-million dollar lobbyists living the high life. Lobbying will once again be work suited for good men and women with local ties.
From a security standpoint, the capital that we currently maintain puts all our critical eggs in one geographic basket. God forbid, but as dangerous regimes continue to pursue weapons of mass destruction, it makes sense to disperse our government.
We are also militarizing the nation’s capitol out of fear, so much so that high-strung police are shooting mentally ill mothers with children in their car. Anything that lowers the risk level allows our law enforcement to do their jobs without turning the Washington D.C. Mall into an armed camp.
It’s no secret that the D.C. power structure would fight this. They wouldn’t even want to discuss it. But what about state governors? What governor — whether Democrat or Republican — would not welcome a cabinet headquarters and a slew of GS-10s to tax? Instead of federal monies block granted to build glittering, empty white elephants in failing communities, what if we moved entire departments? I nominate Detroit for the Department of Commerce. The money can be spent in D.C. or the Motor City. Where will it be more useful?
We are in trouble. Government is necessary, but good government needs to be trusted if citizens are to be expected to voluntarily comply with the rules and regulations that we need in order to live together peacefully. A distant, out-of-touch bureaucracy that is able to write regulations with the force of law is corrosive our social compact. One of my best friends says of attending church, “If you drag your tail there, your heart and mind will follow.” The hearts and minds of the federal government are not with we the people. I think we need to drag them out here and let them live with us. Hopefully their hearts and minds will follow.