Government Overhaul: Long Overdue

The October 22 edition of the New York Times ran an article, Nation’s Confidence Ebbs at a Steady Drip, that focused on the public’s loss of confidence in the Federal Government, the President, and Congress.

The article pointed out that the President began his presidency committed to restoring public confidence that had been severely damaged by the Great Recession. Back then he said, “ the question was not whether government was too big or small, but whether it works.” Now six years later, doubt that it really does has grown greatly.

The article made the point that “Bill Clinton used to say, most Americans start out thinking the federal government couldn’t run a two-car funeral,” said Bruce Reed, a top White House official under Mr. Clinton. “Now they worry that one of the two cars should have been recalled and the other can’t go anywhere because Congress is still fighting over whether to fix the road.”

The problem with government is multi-dimensional.  Part of the problem is that the government has gotten too big, continues to grow and becomes ever more complex.  Since 1980, the Code of Federal Regulations has increased by over 50%.  How can that be justified?  Regulations get layered onto existing regulations making the regulatory process to complex.  Few regulations are ever terminated.  As Ronald Reagan use to say, the closest thing to eternal life is a government program.

In such an environment, the lack of strong, focused leadership leads to a bureaucracy that is self serving and pursues agendas that will lead to political rewards—larger budgets and more power.  Over the past few years, there has been example after example of bureaucracy run amok—the IRS scandal of targeting political groups, the Veterans Affairs incompetence and cover up, a Border Patrol that can’t control the border, incidents that make the Secret Service look like the keystone cops, the incompetence of the Centers for Disease Control and the continued zealotry of the EPA.  These problems didn’t spring up on Mr. Obama’s watch but his governing philosophy has made them worse.

For too long, there has been a focus on all the things that government can do to solve whatever problem seems important to the political class.  As that focus increased, the focus on what the government should do has diminished.  One of the unintended consequences of a larger and more complex government is that it tends to reward those who have the resources to influence regulation and buy access.  That can explain the growth in subsidies and crony capitalism.

It has been over 80 years since there has been a major overhaul of government—the Hoover Commission.  If ever there was the need for another major overhaul and re-engineering, it is now.

The federal bureaucracy simply is not working for the people.  As someone observed decades ago, it is time to starve a feeding bureaucrat.  The start would be a prestigious commission that would instill public confidence that the outcome would be more than just rearranging deck chairs.

President Obama could go a long way in restoring public confidence by joining with leaders in the House and Senate to propose such a commission.  It would be comprised of individuals who are above reproach, who don’t stand to gain by the outcome, and who know how to make large, complex organizations work.

A thorough restructuring should involve a significant reduction in the federal civilian workforce—e.g. 20% and perhaps more—the elimination of outdated functions and departments, a consolidation of cabinet departments, and a return of many functions to the states.  Restoring federalism should be the primary driver.

A good place to start would be Veterans Affairs.  Why do veterans have to be served by a socialized system of hospitals instead of having access to private hospitals and doctors? Veterans have paid a high price in defending our country and are entitled to the best health care available.

The Department of Energy was created at a time of perceived scarcity to pursue independence and alternative to oil.  It has essentially sat on the sidelines during the oil and gas renaissance.

The Department of Commerce has outlived its usefulness in a world that is economically globally connected.  As one example of outdated activities, Commerce maintains a national weather service even though we have an abundance of commercial weather services.

The problems that led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency have been sufficiently dealt with that a command and control agency no longer makes sense.  More responsibilities should be returned to the states with the Washington EPA mainly being a source of information with needed coordination among states taking place at the regional level.

An IRS restructuring is clearly called for but should follow a major overhaul of our tax system which is long overdue.

The Defense Department and Homeland Security should not be exempt from review and overhaul but should be treated separately after a high level, independent assessment of the threats that we are likely to face over the next several decades.  Our force structure should be designed to cost-effectively respond to those threats and provide the level of protection that the public deserves and expects.  Homeland Security is now over a decade old and surely would benefit from a management assessment.

The list could go on and on but the point is that the federal government is not working effectively and its functions should be subjected to the same intense scrutiny that corporations routinely go through in re-engineering themselves to remain world class.

After the Commission completed its work and a restructuring plan was underway, there should be a comprehensive review of the Code of Federal regulations to keep in place only those regulations that are effectively support a reorganized federal system.

 

This article appeared on the FuelFix website at http://fuelfix.com/blog/2014/10/23/government-overhaul-long-overdue/#print

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