To Fix Washington, D.C., We Must First Destroy It

Conservatives have long complained about the size and scope of the federal government, especially since its prolonged, self-aggrandizing phase began in earnest after World War II. They’ve offered countless legal solutions to reduce the feds’ intrusions into both the affairs of the states and into our individual lives—almost none of which has resulted in any practical reduction in federal intrusiveness as Leviathan grows ever larger and fatter.

As the nation developed, the cities that grew up around seaports—Boston, New York, Charleston, New Orleans, as well as the cities along the Ohio, Missouri and Mississippi rivers, and on the Great Lakes—became centers of population and commerce; there was gold in them there wharves. Later, the Gold Rush gave birth to the West. But county seats and state capitals also became sources of prosperity, as a growing democracy slowly (and then suddenly) bureaucratized to meet the challenges of a huge geographic area and international conflict. Today the gold lies in tax receipts and government jobs.

It is no accident then that the wealthiest counties in the United States are now the Maryland and Virginia suburbs near the District of Columbia. Or that the top salaries of federal bureaucrats, $164,000 per annum, now rival the salaries of senators and congressmen. Far from simply being the seat of government, Washington has become a gigantic money-churning machine, enriching not only public officials but also its legion of camp followers along K Street and elsewhere who have set up shop along the Potomac. It’s a vicious cycle, and all at taxpayer expense: the more it costs to live in or around D.C., the higher salaries and perks will rise, and the higher prices businesses will charge.

So why not break the cycle where it starts, by decentralizing D.C. and dispersing many of its functions and personnel around the country? In the Internet age, there’s no reason why the federal workforce has to be concentrated in the District, where it has become a metastasizing economic cancer on the rest of the nation. If presidents can work from Warm Springs, Georgia, La Casa Pacifica, Ronald Reagan’s ranch, Martha’s Vineyard, or Mar-a-Lago, so can everybody else.

Other countries have already done it, most prominently the Federal Republic of Germany. From its National Socialist period, the Germans learned to fear too much government power in one location, so while the capital moved from Bonn to Berlin after reunification, the national DMV is in Flensburg; the Federal Court of Justice lies in Karlsruhe; the Federal Administrative Court is in Leipzig; and the central bank is in Frankfurt.

And yet, in a vastly larger country, we persist in the quaint notion that the tiny District of Columbia, carved out initially from Maryland and Virginia (Virginia eventually got its land back), must be the physical locus of government, when there’s 3,000 miles of America lying just off to the west. So imagine this:

  • Move the Energy Department to Bismarck, North Dakota (pop.72, 000). With the fracking boom and the reflowering of American energy independence, this department should be located where the action is, and the long, cold, dark winters in a land of no snow days would keep them at their desks, instead of goofing off.
  • Move the Department of Transportation to Detroit, Mich. The Motor City practically invented transportation in the United States, and its current hard times would be greatly alleviated by the sudden infusion of cash and workforce. Despite its current shabby state, Detroit boasts some of the finest residential architecture in the country and at very reasonable prices.
  • Move the Department of the Interior to, well, the interior: how about Lebanon, Kansas, the geographic center of the contiguous United States? If tiny Lebanon (pop. 218) is too small for sophisticated Beltway tastes, one of the larger cities nearby would do, such as Grand Island, Nebraska, conveniently located just off Interstate 80.
  • Move the Agriculture Department to somewhere where actual agriculture takes place. Cedar Rapids, Iowa, perhaps, or Stockton, California. The Golden State’s long-suffering Central Valley can use all the economic help it can get.
  • Move the Education Department to Davis, California. Long before there even was federal Department of Education, the University of California was one of the glories of American education. By moving the feds to Davis, where one of the most radical UC campuses is located, they’ll get a first-hand look at what went wrong, and understand the dangers inherent in turning campuses ideological.
  • Move the Federal Bureau of Investigation to Kansas City, Missouri. The FBI’s always been a Midwestern organization at heart, and the Bureau made its bones chasing Midwestern bank robbers in the 1920s and ’30s. Kansas City was the site of the infamous 1933 massacre, which forced the FBI to start arming its agents after they were attacked and killed by Pretty Boyd Floyd—it would be a highly symbolic place to station a new, reorganized, and honest Bureau.

And that’s just for starters.

The economic effects should be obvious. Property values would instantly rise in economically distressed areas of the country, and ancillary businesses and services would start and thrive. Relocated workers drawing current salaries would experience an instant boost in purchasing power in their new red-state homes. And should they only wish to rent, and keep their houses in the D.C. area, they can do what congressmen do now—fly home on weekends with all the money they’re saving.

There would be other significant changes as well, including in state voting patterns. Electorally, the concentration of federal workers in the northern Virginia suburbs has flipped the state from red to purple, if not actually blue, and their dispersal would help restore Virginia’s natural balance. Should a given department relocate to a blue coastal state, then a bunch of new liberal voters won’t make any difference in the Electoral College anyway.

Further, while an infusion of left-oriented public servants might at first cause concern in the hinterlands, no doubt the profusion of latte shops and expense-account restaurants that would spring up in their wake would help improve the quality of life on the Plains. And there’s always the chance that, with exposure to how real America lives, works, and thinks, more than a few would see the light, understand the meaning of the Bill of Rights, buy a few guns, and undergo a miraculous conversion to original American values.

In Vietnam, as the saying went, we had to destroy the village in order to save it. Can patriotic Americans do any less for Washington, D.C.?

About Michael Walsh

Michael Walsh is a journalist, author, and screenwriter. He was for 16 years the music critic and foreign correspondent for Time Magazine, for which he covered the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. His works include the novels As Time Goes By, And All the Saints (winner, 2004 American Book Award for fiction), and the bestselling “Devlin” series of NSA thrillers; as well as the recent nonfiction bestseller, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace. A sequel, The Fiery Angel, was published by Encounter in May 2018. Follow him on Twitter at @dkahanerules (Photo credit: Peter Duke Photo)

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46 responses to “To Fix Washington, D.C., We Must First Destroy It

  • There is merit to this idea, and I have seen it suggested before. The IRS has a large processing facility in Kansas City, Missouri. Doesn’t seem to have made them any less (in)efficient. The military has bases all over the US. One concern, however, is that moving parts of the Federal Leviathan to different parts of the country might just make things worse, with more parts of the country invested in the Leviathan. We see something similar in the resistance to military facility closures where the DOD had determined they are not longer essential.

  • If I was a poor sod living in quaint Lebanon, KS or Bismarck, ND, I would greet this proposal with a sonorous “hell, no.” With the cancer of Federal employment comes the cancer of affirmative action, and I’d fear that my neighborhood would soon be transformed into a diversitopia populated by arrogant DMV-lady types who look down their grandma-glasses at everyone else. Also, cost of living would rise dramatically, as it has in the DC suburbs where I live.

    No, thanks. Break up and contain the Fed gov’t, don’t make it metastasize across the Fruited Plains.

    • The areas you mention are already depressed all by themselves so why would anyone want to raise their standard of living….

  • Rather than relocate federal agencies, eliminate them. There should be no Department of Education, for example. The problem is not that federal bureaucrats are located in Washington, D.C., but that there are far too many federal employees, regardless of location. Moving bloated, unnecessary federal agencies to the heartland would only ruin portions of flyover country and convert them to part of the federal plantation. The Administrative State is a cancer. It has destroyed Virginia, which used to be a conservative state. Maryland is now more liberal than Massachusetts, thanks to all the federal employees. We need to drastically reduce the size and power of the federal government. D.C. and its suburbs were just fine until the New Deal and Great Society (and their Republican successors) turned the federal government into a Leviathan.

    • The problem is not the number of federal employees. There are more people working for federal contractors than there are federal employees. But it begs the question. Both the author and you talk about employees or moving offices without knowledge of the programs. Your idea of getting rid of the Education Department is fine but do you really want to eliminate its programs such as Federal Student Aid? Did you receive any funds for your education? How about the funding for Disabled and Special Ed? States do not fund these programs, and never did. Most States were satisfied when they all stayed at home and out of sight. As far as the author? The Department of Energy’s main functions are not fossil fuel but nuclear. They control all the nuclear weapons research, produce all the nuclear reactors for our subs and operate most of the water powered electricity in the US. Moving the HQ to North Dakota would be unproductive. Second, most of these HQ staffs are small and would actually have little impact on the economy no matter where they are moved. Most of the federal government is decentralized. The comment on Viriginia being blue because of the federal employees in DC fails to take into account that the Pentagon is located in Virginia and is the largest federal installation there. Do we move the Pentagon? Finally, despite the communication methods we have today, face to face is necessary for all the agencies particularly those that interact quite a bit like State and Defense. Also, there would be a problem in dealing with Congress. No. Anyone who wants to downsize, decentralize or reduce the influence of the federal government needs to research the programs and decide whether they still help resolve the problems that the program was set up to solve. Do we abolish the EPA because we now have clean water and air? Or will that encourage dirty industries again? Do we need national parks? How about school lunches? The School lunch program was originally a Defense program because many draftees during WW II were rejected because of ricketts, a dietary deficiency.

  • Thing is, we didn’t end up fixing Vietnam. So I don’t like our chances with DC. A nice dream, though.

  • I wouldn’t move anything to California, but otherwise I agree. Decentralization of power and influence by decentralizing the government.

  • Also move them to areas 10 miles square without congressional representation. That was the founders idea to isolate the federal capital. With advances in transportation, perhaps it should be 25 miles square.

  • There are departments and agencies we could profitably move to places such as Iraan, Texas, and Nome.

  • The only way to “fix” this monstrosity is to starve the Beast. Deny payroll deductions of ANY kind, and tax day is the Monday before Federal elections.

  • In addition to this my proposal is that for one year of each two year Congress, the House and Senate must meet in a state capital. All of Congress should have a first hand look at what it is really like to live in Little Rock or Columbus or Austin.

    • Even better, all US Senators and Representatives should be forbidden from setting foot within the geographical confines of D.C. during their terms of service (perhaps except for strictly defined ceremonial times such as the SOTU), and required to conduct all legislative business via state-of-the-art teleconferencing from an office within the geographical area they represent.

  • I said this long ago. Nice to be plagiarized.

    Move NIH to Detroit. If the CDC can be in Atl, then NIH can be in Detroit. Help them diversify their workforce.

    Move Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac to St Louis (if you keep them). Put these orgs in the true heartland of the country.

    Move the Dept of the Interior to Denver.

    Drop the Dept of Ed.

  • Neat idea and a good post. We should worry, though, that far from the President, the agencies will be even more out of control than they are now.

  • “In Vietnam, as the saying went, we had to destroy the village in order to save it. ”

    That quote is generally regarded as exemplifying the insanity, hubris, and inhumanity of that war.

  • Burn it to the ground and piss on the ashes. Failing that, dispersion works. Getting the federal parasites out of NoVa would give us our commonwealth back (which had been moving red for years like the rest of the South).

  • Here’s the thing. This is one very dumb writer. Why? Using a Viet Nam analogy/reference is profoundly stupid on so many levels. To start: we got our a$$ kicked in Viet Nam. those clever little VCs and PAV gave us a humiliating defeat. We fled like scared dogs and left tens of thousands of our allies among the ARVN and South Vietnamese to get slaughtered by the VC. As historians gradually put Viet Nam into perspective it may be America’s all time low point. We bombed indiscriminately and slaughtered civilians by the thousands. We were war criminals. Why would you use a failed strategy in America’s nightmare atrocity as your signature subtext? Reasons: there are two. You are profoundly ignorant of history or you are profoundly stupid. I can accept either conclusion. But I suggest the author seek a different line of work.

    • I think the appropriate term for your off topic rant would be numskull hackery combined with witless stupidity.

      You can blame the Democrats for the dishonorable betrayal of our Viet Nam ally. As for how the war was waged, that is another distinctly idiotic political mess led by Democrats who under Obama similarly tied the hands of the soldiers. Rehashing old history to smear this author is really ignorant and likely prompted by your own innate hate.

  • Note: This is second identical posting. This is NOT SPAM. Do not delete!

    Ha! Moving the Deep/Administrative State to Flyover Country! Does anyone else sense the irony here?

    Simply transporting the problem of The Leviathan of Gov’t. doesn’t really get at the heart of the matter of Just Too Much Gov’t. Need to cut the bureaucrats and civil “sevants” by 50% for starters. Make all public sector unions illegal. Tie public sector total compensation (i.e. salaries + benefits) to match and track the private sector for similar jobs. There fixed it. Not rocket science. Remove the incentive for self-enrichment and self-aggrandizement. End The Hunger Games! MAGA baby!

    Remember the Rahn Curve:

    Here’s some historical perspective…
    What Really Ended the Great Depression?
    By Stephen Moore; October 15, 2014

    “This story also is not covered in the history books. Shortly after his third reelection in 1944, and at a time when the outcome of the war was no longer in question, FDR and his domestic advisers plotted a new New Deal with such spending items as national health insurance. The Keynesians were sure that the massive postwar drop in government spending would catastrophically tank the economy.”

    “Here’s what happened: Government spending collapsed, from 41 percent of GDP in 1945 to 24 percent in 1946, then to under 15 percent by 1947. And there was no “new” New Deal. This was by far the biggest cut in government spending in U.S. history. Tax rates were cut, and wartime price controls were lifted. There was a very short eight-month recession, but then the private economy surged.”

  • Don’t move anything to Davis, CA.

    Davis is much more lefty-loony messed up than DC is…

  • THe problem here is That dissipating the government geographically would consign the servants of the people to communicating by email and phone rather than person to person in the corridors of power. Thus exposing their shenanigans to the electorate

    You think the Clinton Lynch tarmac chat was a rare event?

  • If you want to destroy the real shitholes ruining America, bomb LA, San F@g, Chicago and DC.

  • Kinda sorry that I dropped seventy bucks on this outfit; it had looked promising. Viet Nam? No one else knows that the Tet offensive was (heroically) blunted and turned back; that the war was lost not militarily but here at home by the likes of Mr. Cronkite and Mzz Fonda? As to the actual topic, there is no need to thus waste money. If it’s not clearly within the enumerated powers, eliminate it. Completely, roots and all, so that the action cannot be easily reversed next time we lose our collective mind and install “progressives.”

  • I suppose watching Internet porn outside Washington DC would not terribly inconvenience a government bureaucrat. My preference is to not bother with relocation until about 90% of current Feral Government activities are terminated, with prejudice. There is a remote chance that the remaining 10% might be on balance constitutional.

  • Great idea, but only if it is drastically shrunken beforehand first, to save on moving costs, and of course to fix the real problem.

  • My colleague at a once great Catholic university, Fr. William B. Faherty, laid out something like this way back in the 60s, when it became clear what the Great Society was about to accomplish. Not long after that, the great historian Forrest McDonald, asked if there had been an American Revolution, said “Of course not: we had no Paris.” We still don’t have a Paris, but we have something worse. Doing what Mr. Walsh here suggests would not only light again the sparks of localism, it would extinguish the potential fires of revolution.

  • The Federal government has grown too large. Due to that the representational government created by the founding no longer functions. Once elected politicians do as they please. They also earn too much. Their income should be that of the average income of America. If that average goes up so does their income. It would give an incentive to these politicians that the average income keeps going up and not down.

    Due to predatory Capitalism including usury but also practices inherent in our system which tends to be dishonest and self serving, the money is siphoned from the people into the hands of a few which has transformed us into a full fledged Plutocracy.

    I do not believe exporting parts of the Federal government to distant shores would downsize it. In fact there is good reason that it would expand it even more as each department free of the constraints of DC expand in the new locality. It will outsource jobs and money across our land.

    We could simply do away with some departments.

    -Our intelligence service which began with the FBI in 1913 has expanded to include Homeland Security, NSA, CIA, plus a dozen other agencies. I am sure some of them can be eliminated.

    -Department of Education should be eliminated and transferred to the state level.

    -The Federal Reserve should be shut down and all powers once held by the National Treasury returned to them.

    -EPA should be downsized.

    There are over 400 agencies. Many of them could be eliminated or transferred to the states.

  • Relocating an agency would merely relocate the problem, and relocating a problem is not a solution. What America needs is problem-solvers, not people who make a living by addressing problems as a means of livelihood

  • “Move the Education Department to Davis, California.”

    No, actually, move the federal DoE, and a lot of other federal dross 100km off the California coast–and let them sink.

  • Robert Byrd (D-KKK) wanted to move a bunch of federal agencies to West Virginia.

    Hate to agree with the late unlamented Porkmeister General, but… YES!!! Make the jobs undesirable, and cut these sinecure agencies (not just the superfluous Dept of Education, but also the bloated Dept of Transportation) to the bone.

    Whether these people got their increases under Bush or Obama, WHAT DO THEY DO THAT WARRANTS 170K??

  • Destroy Leviathan….we can only hope for now. BUT we can give it a shot!

    Welcome to the Revolution!

  • Once again, the Right’s only concern is consolidating its power. Your article could not be more transparent.

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