Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Trumbull County has been calling for a move of federal agencies outside the Beltway since at least 2017. On April 1, he and two Ohio Republicans — Reps. Anthony Gonzalez of Rocky River and Dave Joyce of Geauga County — introduced the Federal Government Decentralization Commission Act.
The bill if enacted would “establish a bipartisan commission within the General Services Administration (GSA) to study the relocation of executive agencies or divisions of executive agencies outside the Washington metropolitan area,” says a news release from Ryan’s office.
The commission would be asked to prioritize sending jobs “to low-income communities or areas with expertise in the mission and goal of an executive agency or division” and would have to present any plan to Congress to enact.
The U.S. government is the largest employer in the United States, with more than 2.7 million on its payroll, according to Ryan. But a surprisingly small slice of them actually work in the D.C. metro area — just about 283,000, Ryan’s office estimates.
Cleveland is already home to about 2,000 U.S. Defense Finance and Accounting Service jobs. The goal would be to increase job allocations in poorer urban areas like Cleveland and less affluent areas like Ryan’s job-hungry 13th District, which encompasses much of the Mahoning Valley, reaching into Summit County.
Joyce and Gonzalez also see political benefits from moving the epicenter of federal jobs away from the nation’s capital.
“I firmly believe some parts of the federal government would better serve the American people if they were outside of Washington and away from partisan politics,” Joyce said in a statement. Gonzalez said such decentralization would help bring “new perspectives to federal policy making,” adding that the idea “is commonsense and should garner support across the entire country.”
Would this be a boon for Cleveland and Ohio? Or is it much ado about not much, given the limited number of federal jobs in the D.C. area? Our Editorial Board Roundtable offers some thoughts.
Ted Diadiun, columnist:
This proposal would boost the economies of poorer, minority-dominated cities where there is expertise and motivation, plenty of office space and a thirst for jobs. Cleveland could become a center for the Veterans Health Administration; Detroit for Housing and Urban Development, New Orleans for the Department of Energy. The congressmen behind this innovative idea should be encouraged and applauded.
Thomas Suddes, editorial writer:
If West Virginia’s Robert C. Byrd could pepper West Virginia with federal offices, there’s no reason why Northeast Ohio’s congressional delegation couldn’t have done the same for the Western Reserve. The delegation hasn’t because members of Congress of both parties take the region’s voters for granted. That needs to end.
Eric Foster, columnist:
I’m a bit confused. How is the federal government “centralized” if just 283,000 of its 2.7 million employees work in the D.C. metro area? How many additional jobs would be created by moving buildings? With the modern technology that exists, does location of the agency building really matter? Can’t the government just add staff in other places?
Victor Ruiz, editorial board member:
Allocating our tax dollars to areas that need them the most makes a lot of sense. Ohio is a great example of a state that is in desperate need of good-paying, sustainable jobs. My concern is the “robbing Peter to pay Paul” approach. Instead of taking jobs from a community that relies on them, why not create new ones?
Lisa Garvin, editorial board member:
First of all, moving employment from one place to another isn’t job creation. Additionally, without knowing which federal agencies would be relocated, there may be significant national security issues involved. Decentralization makes sense in some cases, but I’m not sure it does when it’s only about 10% of all federal jobs. This legislation feels like the next political football.
Mary Cay Doherty, editorial board member:
Economic and administrative benefits aside, the Democrats could leverage federal decentralization for D.C. statehood and the addition of two reliably Democratic senators. The Constitution requires a federal district separate from any state. Using decentralization, Democrats might argue that a geographically narrowed federal district should mean statehood for the District of Columbia overall. Thus, decentralization risks becoming another Democratic power-grabbing tool.
Elizabeth Sullivan, opinion director:
This bill just calls for a study so let’s not go overboard before we see details, but I’m four-square behind bipartisan efforts aimed at bolstering local jobs and achieving some cost-savings and efficiencies for the U.S. government.
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