Because of the explosion of government agencies and programs since World War II, Washington, D.C. and its suburbs have grown in population tremendously. For example, in the 1950s, Roanoke was the third largest City in the Commonwealth of Virginia and Fairfax County had a population of approximately 5,000. Today, Fairfax County is one of the wealthiest and most populous counties in the country. Because of the population explosion in Northern Virginia and Southern Maryland, the cost of real estate has gone through the roof.
Today, modern technology permits communication across America in seconds and physical transport of people and goods in hours. It is less important for an organization to be tied down to one particular place than it was at the founding of our nation. So while it is true that the various agencies had needed to have their headquarters and a majority of their employees in the Washington, D.C. area in the 20th century, that is no longer the case.
I have long advocated for some of the functions of the Federal Government to be transferred from the Washington area into the states, among the people they serve. For example, I have encouraged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to move more of its personnel into the field so it can better assist states and local governments. I think this would improve the quality of our air and water much more than a constant stream of complicated regulations from Washington.
After the General Services Administration cancelled a new Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) headquarters in the metropolitan D.C. area last year, I wrote a column suggesting that the FBI look for a new headquarters outside of Washington, D.C., and advocated particularly for a location in the Ninth District. I have since been in communication with the FBI about this suggestion.
For government agencies that focus on serving specific parts of the country, this logic is particularly relevant. An example that affects our area is the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). ARC defines the Appalachian region to include part of Virginia, all of West Virginia, and parts of eleven other states from New York to Mississippi. Yet its headquarters are located on Connecticut Avenue in Washington!
Doesn’t it make sense to place the headquarters in the center of Appalachia? And I would argue that would be Southwest Virginia.
Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Congressman Hal Rogers (R-KY) recently introduced the Appalachian Regional Commission Reform Act. Their bill does many things, including moving ARC headquarters to the Appalachian region. This bill is broad and could inadvertently divert funds from Virginia. Therefore, I have proposed my own bill that would simply require ARC to be headquartered in the Appalachian region. Because the government often does not act promptly, this bill would require the move to take place within eighteen months of passage.
Moving ARC to Southwest Virginia would bring its employees closer to the region and the people they serve. They would participate more fully in the culture of the Appalachian region, not just visit it on field trips from the capital.
Headquartering ARC in Appalachia would have notable financial benefits for the country and the region. Real estate in Washington is pricy, as is the cost of living. Federal dollars would buy more in the Appalachian region. From Appalachia’s standpoint, hosting ARC headquarters would help fulfill the commission’s goal of fostering economic growth in the region. The investment in constructing or renovating a building to suit ARC’s needs would boost the economy, as would the employees working for ARC. Further, the income from these ARC employees would be spent in our communities at our mom-and-pop shops. Further, their entertainment would be at our theaters, our parks, and our trails. This money would also benefit our schools and local governments. Moving ARC headquarters would physically bring the commission to the Appalachian region and advance the goals it was set up to achieve.
There is more momentum now than ever before for putting the functions of government into the places and among the people government is meant to serve. I think the result would be a government that is more responsive to and representative of the American people. This is an idea whose time has come.
If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov.