Should the federal workforce spread out?

Tom Shoop, editor in chief, Government Executive

wfedstaff | June 3, 2015 9:12 am

Is Washington too much of a company town? Should the federal workforce be scattered around the country? And would this really help?

The Washington Post’s Alec MacGillis thinks so. But this isn’t the first time this sentiment has been expressed.

“It’s just one of those things that seems to come up every few years, and the case never seems all that entirely strong to me,” Tom Shoop, editor in chief at Government Executive said. “So put me in the category of not being convinced! “

MacGillis’ opinion was that if Washington, due to the high government presence, is under such heat from the rest of the nation for remaining relatively unscathed during the economic downturn affecting the rest of the country, why not break it up and spread the wealth?


Well, Shoop says, there’s a few caveats to the argument. First up, the government isn’t all that Washington-centric.

“The government is not exactly as concentrated as people tend to think it is in Washington,” Shoop said. “Eighty-three percent of the government is actually outside the Washington area.”

Also, Shoop says, MacGillis excluded Defense and Veterans Affairs employees based around the country in his statistics.

“I think it’s a little curious to take Defense and VA out of the calculations, apparently purely on the grounds that they have a lot of employees who aren’t in Washington” “It’s sort of like saying ‘if you look at Walmart, and take out all of people who actually work at Walmart, well they’d be very heavily concentrated in Bentonville, Arkansas.’ Well, yea, that’s where their headquarters are. But doesn’t tell you that much about the situation.”

And taking out Defense and Veterans affairs on results in a 25 percent concentration of the government in and around Washington, Shoop writes in his rebuttal, which means 75 percent is still outside the area, not exactly an outrageous imbalance.

While there’s one school of thought that says that the government should be moved out of Washington and brought closer to the people, Shoop says the result might not be what they expect.

“These agencies would then become entirely captive of their locality. If you move the Department of Agriculture to Des Moines, think how important it would be to the economy of Des Moines.” Shoop said. “If you think pork-barrel spending is a problem now, imagine what it would be like if those people had huge agency headquarters in their districts.”

Shoop believes that the idea to “break-up” Washington gets floated around every time the anti-Washington sentiment around the country increases, and hopes people realize that while it’s not to counter-act the concentration in Washington, there’s already more geographic diversification taking place.

“If you want government to be more and more outside Washington, you’re gradually getting what you wish for already,” Shoop said, citing federal agency hubs around the country in places like Kansas City, Huntsville, Ala., and Denver, Colo. “This sort of thing is already going on.”

You can read MacGillis’ piece here, and Shoop’s response here.

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