Op-Ed Contributor – To Change Washington, Move Some of the Government Out – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com
Three years ago, I suggested the idea of moving the headquarters of the Internal Revenue Service to New Orleans, thinking that a federal campus there, providing some 7,000 stable, well-paying jobs, could anchor redevelopment after Hurricane Katrina. Such a move could still be a boon to recovery in New Orleans. And the same could be done for regions like the Midwest, where car makers and other industrial employers are contracting.
The best candidates for relocation would be departments like Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs, which are more involved in operating government than in making policy.
Good ideas are supposed to come from Presidential candidates, but sometimes, they just seem to bubble up out of nowhere. I was impressed upon reading this idea. It’s just… good.
The writer also mentions how the prohibitive costs of living in DC deter bright, young professionals from working there. I mean, come on. No offense to the city—all I remember of which from my childhood visit were vendors selling hot dogs for obscene prices outside the Smithsonian, though to be fair, bilking tourists is an international hobby—but would you, given the choice, move to DC? I mean, maybe you would if you wanted a job near the center of power, which is not the IRS. I mean, if I worked for the IRS, I’d want it to be in a city I love. Does anybody love DC?
(People who live in DC are hereby advised to tell me why I shouldn’t be so cynical. A good response will get its own blog post!)
Besides, I can imagine that DC is full of pencil-pushing day jobs. Why not move them away from where there’s an excess, and move them to places where they’re needed? Then again, DC isn’t exactly economically fluorishing. Perhaps these government jobs should move where they’re needed… uh… to DC.
Come to think of it, this has all just fallen apart in my head. If this idea would be a good jobs initiative, why isn’t DC awash in more jobs than it can handle? I looked on Wikipedia and found—in a well-cited article and a section within that uses the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the DC Department of Employment Services as its sources for these facts—that “As of May 2008, the Washington Metropolitan Area had an unemployment rate of 3.5%; the lowest rate among the 40 largest metro areas in the nation. It is also lower than the national average unemployment rate during the same period of 5.2%.” (source here, PDF) And yet, the rates within the city vary wildly: “in May 2008, unemployment ranged from 1.7% in affluent Ward 3 in upper Northwest D.C. to 17.2% in poorer Ward 8 in Southeast.” (source here, PDF) So, DC has a lot of jobs, but they aren’t spread out very evenly. Of course, I need to know (sadly) if that’s unusual for a US city, and where the problems are.
So, maybe DC should be sending some of its jobs into different areas. Obviously, though, they wouldn’t want to hire unqualified people simply to improve a neighborhood’s beleaguered economy; on the other hand, what if the people in the poor areas are caught in a cycle of poverty and poor education? What if they’ve worked hard and played by the rules and still come up short? I don’t know any of that. I like to boast about my first-year economics education (mainly, it serves to make me sad that so many world leaders and at least one candidate for President—hint: the old guy, who favors drilling and does not understand that introducing slightly more oil into the international market after a ten-year wait will have no effect now and a negligible one then), but I can’t tell you jack-squat about how to measure the availability of jobs across communities and how discrepancies typically come about (other than the usual scientific advice of “take everything in context”).
This is (wow, I’m on a tangent) all part of why I feel it would be excellent for all government data to be available in easily-interoperable data markup formats, like XML, that would encode the results and methodology of all government surveys in a uniform way. Then, armchair sociologists like me could have a go at the data and detect trends that even the most hard-working member of the Beltway fishbowl might miss. And, economic policies of politicians would have to stand up to serious scrutiny from citizens, able to see every direct and indirect effect in its full context. So, we’d get to see how the effects of bold plans—like, say, moving the IRS to New Orleans—would play out in cold, hard, interoperable data.
(That’s a suggestion to government web designers everywhere: just give us the data! We’ll get to work right away on doing cool things with it. Right-o!)