Rep. Tim Ryan has a dramatic idea for how to spread some wealth around: Spread the government around.
Hundreds of thousands of federal employees, backed by record-high government spending, have contributed to a regional economy that anyone could envy; the four richest counties in the United States neighbor the nation's capital. So Ryan wants lawmakers to establish a commission that would develop a plan to "decentralize" the federal government, with a particular eye on helping the working-class economies that have suffered the most over the last decade.
"We have a lot more employees in the federal government than we ever imagined as a country, and we are in a position where a good number of these jobs don't necessarily need to be in Washington, D.C.," the Ohio Democrat told the Washington Examiner.
Ryan has introduced legislation that would set up a commission comprising eight lawmakers evenly split between both parties in the House and Senate. Together with two members appointed by the head of the General Services Administration, the agency responsible for managing the rest of the federal government agencies, the commission would have to recommend agencies to relocate by the fall of 2019.
"You're not going to want to take a [Cabinet] secretary and necessarily move them to Youngstown," Ryan said. "The headquarters may need to remain at Washington, D.C., but what backroom operations, what agencies within the department could be located in [another] city?"
The broader idea has bipartisan support, even though Ryan, who is most recently famous for trying to unseat Nancy Pelosi as the leader of the House Democrats, has yet to find any co-sponsors for his bill. Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz, the retiring chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, introduced a resolution in January that called for the relocation of federal agencies.
"Government needs to be closer to the people it regulates," Chaffetz said. "Housing federal agencies in a city with one of the highest median incomes in the United States is not only expensive, but keeps federal bureaucrats in an economic and political bubble that offers a distorted view of the realities facing this country.
Ryan isn't as critical of the federal government, particularly when framing the issue for Democratic colleagues. Instead, he sees the decentralization proposal as the kind of economic stimulus package that could pass through a Republican-controlled Congress. Given the size of the government — about 300,000 federal employees live in the D.C. metropolitan region — Ryan hopes that even modest changes could have a major impact on depressed areas.
"Even if you could move 10 percent of the 300,000 — back of the envelope — say you could move 30,000 jobs and you can move them a thousand at a time," he said. "I can't tell you what that would do for the city of Youngstown or Gary, Indiana, or Milwaukee. And you put it downtown, and you stimulate other investment that could happen in those areas, and it could be a huge boon for these communities."
Ryan expects the idea to face opposition "from the folks in D.C. or the folks in Maryland or Virginia," but he could gain allies among heartland lawmakers whose constituents could stand to benefit.
"Democrats should be for decentralizing the government, you know? It is big. It is bureaucratic. It does need to be closer to the people," he said. "But it still needs to be funded, and work, and it doesn't mean you take a backseat to anybody on why these programs are important. But if you can get people employed in 30 communities across the country that would really, really need it, you should be for decentralizing that stuff."