Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Old (Occupied Northern) Virginny
Although Northern Virginia has largely become a bedroom community for Washington, D.C., it is fortunate in that it has avoided being completely paved over with sterile-looking new housing developments and strip malls (not that there isn’t plenty of that type of thing; it’s just not universal).
For example, pictured is a scene from the northern approaches to the secret Paco command center (click to enlarge). Our neighborhood is “mature”, if not genuinely “old” (most of the houses were built back in the 50’s and 60’s), and the place has the aspect of a community that was set right down in an old forest. There are near-by nature trails that, I believe, connect with other trails which run all the way up into Maryland, and wildlife is not hard to find (Mrs. Paco observed a deer in the front yard the other day, and has seen a red fox scampering across the road on her daily walks with Mabel, the Official Dog of Paco Enterprises; in addition, there are thousands of birds and a bumper crop, this year, of squirrels and chipmunks – a veritable zoo, run on the honor system).
If only one could stay off of the main roads, the place wouldn’t be half bad; but, alas, one has to go to the grocery store occasionally or to the mall, and the primary and secondary traffic arteries are almost invariably clotted. This is not surprising – after all, we live in the environs of the nation’s capital. But one wonders why this should necessarily be the case.
Now that we are in the midst of a general election year, and the politicians are all in full bloom - like a garden of poisonous plants, created and lovingly tended by some evil eccentric – it occurs to me, as it has many times before, that there is no longer any good reason to concentrate all of the resources of the federal government in one location. In this age of high technology - computers, e:mail, document scanners, remote access, BlackBerries, coference calls, satellite hook-ups, and so forth, nearly ad infinitum - why shouldn’t the government be distributed rather far and wide? Why not put the Department of Agriculture in, say, Omaha and the Department of Health and Human Services in Santa Fe? The cost of maintaining plant, equipment and armies of federal employees is bound to be much more expensive in a high-rent district such as Washington than in Dubuque, Iowa or San Antonio, Texas. And why not put CIA headquarters in Lizard Lick, North Carolina? Imagine the reduction in those costs associated with the maintenance of security and clandestine operations ; I mean, who would think of looking for it there?
When someone at the State Department wants to talk to someone at the Department of Commerce, do they holler at each other out of their respective windows? Use signal flags? Speak into tin cans linked by a long string? Of course not. They call or e:mail or use their BlackBerries. If they need to have meetings, they have access to an array of telecommunications options - none of which requires the agencies to be in the same town.
And since we are constantly reading about the economic miseries of the “Rust Belt”, why not create job opportunities and spread some of that government getus by relocating the Environmental Protection Agency to Detroit or Cleveland? A side benefit might be that having to live among people who are (arguably) suffering as a result of some of that agency’s rules and regulations would have a sobering effect on the highly-paid bureaucrats who run the organization.
And an intangible, but, I think, important, byproduct of spinning off government agencies across the fruited plains (if they cannot be positively abolished, which would obviously be the best course of action with respect to many of them) would be the deflation of the arrogance and pretentiousness that accumulates on the Ship of State, like so many tons of barnacles and seaweed. The concentration of practically all of the executive functions of the federal government in one central location tends to act as a sort of maelstrom, sucking up resources in an ever-expanding path of centripetal force, and creating a separate and costly infrastructure that only reinforces the self-importance of the State’s minions. For example, I am reasonably sure that if my agency were relocated to, say, Honolulu, I would find it a humbling, but, nonetheless, beneficial, experience. I, for one, am ready to do my part.