Decentralizing the Federal Workforce is a Great Bipartisan Idea, With a Partisan Twist


In 2016, the year that #lolnothingmatters, it’s not surprising to find that even staunch ideological opponents share the occasional policy overlap. David French at National Review highlights one policy proposal for the incoming Trump administration that could unite both right and left: decentralizing the federal workforce.

Instapundit Glenn Reynolds suggests that if we can’t significantly reduce the size of the federal workforce, we should at least get them out of Washington.

That would mean that in 8 years, the population of bureaucrats in the Washington, D.C. metro area would be roughly halved. That would make Washington less vibrant, but more affordable — and those bureaucrats working out of offices in the hinterland would be brought closer to the American people. Drain the swamp? Well, it’s a start.

Vox’s Matt Yglesias agrees.

Moving agencies out of the DC area to the Midwest would obviously cause some short-term disruptions. But in the long run, relocated agencies’ employees would enjoy cheaper houses, shorter commutes, and a higher standard of living, while Midwestern communities would see their population and tax base stabilized and gain new opportunities for complementary industries to grow.

It seems like a great bipartisan idea that would benefit everyone. Economic stimulus for widespread areas of the country, government more directly in contact with the population it serves, relieve congestion in the nation’s capital. The benefits abound!

The problem is there’s one major benefit that Reynolds might not realize and Yglesias almost certainly does but conveniently leaves out: politics.

Yglesias suggests moving large segments of the federal bureaucracy to the Midwest, specifically Detroit, Milwaukee, and Cincinnati. The Midwest just flipped from blue to red for the first time in several presidential elections. That’s not a coincidence. Ohio had been safely blue for 8 years, Wisconsin and Michigan for 28.

Then Trump happened, the rules were rewritten, and Democrats were thrown for a loop. Some predictably claimed the election was stolen by voter suppression, some proposed eliminating the Electoral College, but some actually got to work and started brainstorming ways to keep it from happening again. Yglesias has been mostly among the latter, and this proposal is another example.

The federal bureaucracy, size 2.6 million, is almost monolithically Democrat. Moving them out of DC might expose them to ideas outside the Acela corridor’s liberal bubble, sure. But it’s more likely to do what migrating populations almost always do: change the place, not the people.

So let’s combine Reynolds and Yglesias’ ideas. If 1.3 million Democrats from Maryland, DC, and Virginia move out to Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin, we could ironically do what Trump has pledged to do: build a wall. But instead of a border wall to keep out Mexicans, it would finally be the mythical Blue Wall in the Midwest that Democrats thought would keep them in the White House in perpetuity.

I personally support the proposal, on its own merits. But voters should be aware of all potential ramifications, even unstated ones, and pundits should be honest about them.

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