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“What I am proposing tonight is the most extensive reorganization of the federal government since the 1940s … The reason to create this department is not to increase the size of government, but to increase its focus and effectiveness.”
President George W. Bush
The President is on to something here. I don’t claim to be a terrorism expert, so I can’t really comment on whether the new Department of Homeland Security is the right solution at the right time. But the President hit a chord with the need to restructure and reorganize the federal government. I just wish he had extended his bold proposal to all of the federal government.
Let’s start with the most basic and profound relationship the government has with the individual citizen – the power to tax. Our tax code is in desperate need of fundamental restructuring. The current code is a 44,000-page catalogue of favors for special interests and a chamber of horrors for the rest of America. We need to scrap the current code and replace it with a simple, low, fair, and honest flat tax.
The operational side of the federal government is in just as desperate need of reform as the revenue collecting side. Did you know that when the federal government contracts to build a road or a building, Congress requires that the government pay the prevailing union wage? In other words, if a contractor can save you, the taxpayer, money because his costs are lower than the local union wages, it doesn’t matter: it is illegal for the government to save you that money. These so-called Davis-Bacon requirements are estimated to add over $1.5 billion to the cost of government – with no added improvement in quality or service.
Our largest federal program, Social Security, has not been fundamentally reformed since its inception over 65 years ago. (unless you count 13 payroll tax increases as “reform”). Back then we had more than 40 workers paying into the system for every retiree receiving benefits. Today, we have less than four workers for each retiree and we’re headed towards just two workers per retiree in less than thirty years. Today’s young workers will be the first generation to pay more into the system than they receive in benefits. Social Security cries out for fundamental restructuring. Yet, Congress has shelved the President’s reform proposal and the Democrat party is bragging about how they plan to use the President modest reform proposal for blatant partisan purposes in this fall’s elections.
The federal government is plagued by duplication in virtually every aspect of its operations. Just look at some its most popular services, like medical research. The National Institute’s of Health is widely regarded as the world’s premier medical research facility – as well it should be since it receives over $15 billion per year. So why does the Defense Department spend $175 million on breast cancer research? Isn’t the Defense Department supposed to fight wars?
How many departments and agencies are involved with environmental protection? Just the cabinet level departments alone include, the EPA, the Interior Department, the Defense Department (again), the Commerce Department, the Agriculture Department, the Transportation Department and the Education Department.
Unfortunately, nothing is harder in politics than reform and restructuring. Politicians with power never give it up voluntarily. That’s why President Bush sent four trusted aides 100 feet below the White House to meet in complete secrecy to map out the largest restructuring of government in fifty years. Sadly, even members of Congress who worried that four guys rushing to complete the project before it leaked might have overlooked something, agree that this was the only way to actually get the restructuring accomplished.
By Washington standards a popular President sprung a bold, sweeping proposal to deal with the threat of terrorists with weapons of mass destruction on an unsuspecting Congress. By normal standards it appears to be a modest, common sense restructuring to align a number of agencies with the same overall mission. Either way, it is likely to pass, not because it makes sense, but because the president has generated the political momentum to take power away from agencies and congressional committees. Let’s hope the President sends the same four guys back down there to finish the job of redesigning and restructuring the rest of the federal government. Whether the politicians admit it or not, it is long overdue and desperately needed.