January 31, 2019

Building on our successes promoting economic liberty across the country, IJ is turning our focus to our own backyard: Washington, D.C. Although government overreach at the federal level is the topic of near-constant attention and discussion, the red tape imposed by the District at the local level is not.

IJ’s activism team set out to change that. We know how local regulations keep small business owners from achieving their dreams. We combed through D.C.’s regulations, went door to door interviewing business owners, and hosted roundtable discussions with entrepreneurs. We also met with government officials and community stakeholders and researched best practices for business licensing.

Each path led to the same conclusion: It is far too expensive, time-consuming, and complicated to start a business in D.C.

The aspiring business owners we talked with will tell you as much. One entrepreneur was rejected from obtaining his real estate license—even after completing expensive training requirements—for a crime he committed years ago. (You can read more about IJ’s efforts to take on these sorts of “collateral consequence” laws in our cover story this issue.) During a community roundtable IJ hosted, we spoke with entrepreneurs who can’t obtain business licenses simply because they owe more than $100 to the D.C. government.

All in all, D.C.’s regulatory process is so byzantine, and involves so many agencies, that no one has a firm or comprehensive understanding of it. The District’s conflicting regulatory requirements have created an impossible web of fees, paperwork, and agency visits.

Complaints about this red-tape nightmare are nothing new, but IJ is taking a solution-oriented approach to the problem. In January, we launched a new coalition called District Works, which will unite entrepreneurs, residents, and decision makers in untangling the red tape that is stifling entrepreneurship in our nation’s capital.

To help visualize D.C.’s regulatory burden, we created a flowchart outlining D.C.’s requirements for starting a business, which you can see by clicking on the graphic below:

With our flowchart in hand, we make the case that it is often not just one regulation or license that keeps entrepreneurs from thriving, but instead death by a thousand regulatory cuts. Moreover, this tool enables IJ to identify bottlenecks and propose specific reforms that would have an immediate, direct, and significant impact on business owners.

Our work in D.C. can serve as a model for other cities and will cement IJ’s expertise in cutting red tape at every level of government.

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