Right Thinking From The Left Coast
You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life - Albert Camus

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Fatter Than Believed?

How fat is the government?  Would you believe $100-200 billion?

The U.S. government has 15 different agencies overseeing food-safety laws, more than 20 separate programs to help the homeless and 80 programs for economic development.

These are a few of the findings in a massive study of overlapping and duplicative programs that cost taxpayers billions of dollars each year, according to the Government Accountability Office.

A report from the nonpartisan GAO, to be released Tuesday, compiles a list of redundant and potentially ineffective federal programs, and it could serve as a template for lawmakers in both parties as they move to cut federal spending and consolidate programs to reduce the deficit. Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.), who pushed for the report, estimated it identifies between $100 billion and $200 billion in duplicative spending. The GAO didn’t put a specific figure on the spending overlap.


The agency found 82 federal programs to improve teacher quality; 80 to help disadvantaged people with transportation; 47 for job training and employment; and 56 to help people understand finances, according to a draft of the report reviewed by The Wall Street Journa

It goes on and on.  $100-200 billion may sound small compared to $3.5 trillion in spending.  But this is almost entirely from non-defense discretionary spending—a small portion of the budget.  So the identified waste is proportionately large.

A few caveats.  First, cutting this stuff will not be easy.  However redundant these programs are, if you cut one of the 80 programs to help disadvantage people with transportation, the Democrats will have a chance to scream about how you’re cutting a program for poor people.  Don’t expect the MSM to point out how that it’s a redundant one.  Whether to act on the GAO’s report is going to be a real test of the mettle of the Republicans and the honesty of the Democrats.  Will the Democrats demagogue and the Republicans cave?  They already agreed to a few billion in cuts in exchange for a continuing resolution, a pro-rated amount close to $100 billion per year.  So there does appear to be some sanity emerging.

Second caveat is that we can’t instantly save $100 billion.  Most of the programs would end up consolidated.  We’d save a lot on bureaucracy and bullshit; but not $100 billion.  But again, this is a test—this time of Democrats.  If they are serious about wanting government to work, they should be the first one to embrace the idea of eliminating redundant programs.  Of course, that would mean laying off workers and coming into conflict with unions, so…

I think one of the big lessons to draw from here is just how long our government has careened all over the road like a car without a driver.  For fuck’s sake, what were our politicians doing for the last few decades?  Did they just keep forgetting that they’d created Program A and keep adding Programs B, C, D, X, DE, FY all the way up to ZZ Top?

This emphasizes more than ever the need for the federal government—all governments, really—to be constantly reviewing their expenditures, their laws and their regulations to see what can be gotten rid of.  Every law, every agency, every program should come with sunset provisions.  Every year, at least one federal department should have a top-to-bottom review.

We never want to revisit anything our government has done.  Just today, I was reading how Sarbanes-Oxley is killing IPOs.  Is anyone reviewing SOX?  Anyone interesting in re-opening it?  We should be.  Government should always be on the chopping block.

Update: Ted DeHaven makes a good point.  Many of these programs should not be consolidated, but eliminated altogether.  The correct number of federal programs to improve teacher quality should be 0, not 10. But in this environment, I’ll take what I can get.  Consolidate first, eliminate afterward.  If we consolidate the 100 programs involved in transportation down to four and they still suck, it makes the argument stronger for eliminating them completely.  YMMV.

Think of it as Hal’s Law of Budget Cuts.  Cutting small programs (like, say, PBS) might be a great idea but the savings to political capital expenditure ratio is very small.  The bigger and more bloated the program, the harder it gets to defend and the great the prize for expending the political capital to hi it.  Consolidating programs down is a great way to create big fat targets for future budget cutting.

Posted by Hal_10000 on 03/01/11 at 11:27 PM in Politics   Law, & Economics  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink
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