The reasons for the issues were plentiful: large numbers of applicants, influxes they couldn't handle, pilot programs they weren't ready for, good management being poached by the (close by) national office, and high staff turnover. In the midst of it all though, I was interested to see this excuse get thrown out there:
“The ability to attract talented candidates was challenging due to the high cost of living in the Baltimore commuting area,” VA said in a statement.Now maybe it's just because I've lived in Boston for so long, but I thought it was a little strange to see someone in Baltimore complain about a high cost of living. I was pretty sure this was just normal bureaucratic excuse making, but I decided to take a look around the internet and see if I couldn't figure out if there was some legitimacy to it.
It turns out there are a lot of different ways to measure how pricey a city is.
Kiplinger's seemed pretty comprehensive...they factor in housing, transportation, groceries, health care and "miscellaneous". They rank Boston as #8, Baltimore doesn't make the top 10.
CNN money provides a cost of living calculator that claims that if you made $100k in Boston, you'd only need to make $86,774 in Baltimore to keep your standard of living. They even give you a break down of which categories make the biggest difference (health care and utilities are much less in Baltimore compared to Boston, groceries and transportation slightly less, and housing equal).
It appears that what you count as a city makes a big difference too....for example the Council for Community and Economic Research split up New York City, and thus has Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens as 3 of the top 10 most expensive cities.
This list struck me as a little odd, until I realized they played an interesting semantics game....this isn't "most expensive" it's "least affordable". The report it linked to clarified that they counted housing and transportation costs, and then compared them to median incomes in the area. Cities that had high costs but also high incomes were not included...they were targeting cities with low incomes but high costs. That puts Boston and Baltimore as almost identical.
Overall, I thought the different ways of counting were pretty interesting. I'm still not buying that Baltimore's facing any particularly unique challenge of cost, but more likely that those interested in living in the area and working for the government would rather go a few miles down the road to DC. Also, I've been to Baltimore, and I got a little curious what would happen if you priced out the good areas of Baltimore. Once you get outside the inner harbor and a few other areas, things go downhill in a hurry, so I wouldn't be surprised if the average costs were a bit skewed.
Ah well, at least they have the Lombardi trophy for the year. You know, once they found it.