OK, so the U.S. government’s auditor has found duplication and overlap that may be wasting $100 billion or more a year, according to the Republican senator who commissioned the study. How can anyone argue for higher taxes as long as Washington is so inefficient? A few points:
1) I mean, no one should expect the feds to be as Six Sigma efficient as FedEx or Wal-Mart. Government doesn’t have the financial discipline from the profit motive. Its priorities are to “insure domestic tranquility” and “secure the blessings of liberty,” as the introduction to America’s 1787 prospectus puts it.
2) But the audit from the GAO gives a feel for the yawning chasm between Washington and those models of corporate efficiency. For instance, the auditor found 82 separate federal programs to improve teacher quality ($4 billion a year), and 20 distinct programs to deal with homelessness ($2.9 billion a year). The GAO also found plenty of waste in the $700 billion military budget, which should open the eyes of Republicans shielding it from the ax. Realistically, the Army and Marine Corp don’t really need to develop separate versions of “mine rollers” to counter roadside explosives.
3) Streamlining redundant programs would be a solid start toward fiscal soundness. A next step might be to downsize the federal civilian workforce, which has so far been spared the cuts seen in the private sector. Trimming the federal headcount by 15 percent — some of which might potentially be done by not replacing retirees — would save nearly $300 billion over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Bottom line: Promised federal pension and healthcare benefits will eventually need to be scaled back. And, in exchange, some taxes might need to rise to spare some Democrat-supported spending. But these big-ticket items are tough to sell with polls showing public trust in the government at its weakest in a half century. Reports like the GAO’s latest won’t help.
Thriftier and more competent government might only save relatively few bucks today, but it would help create the public confidence needed for more radical action tomorrow.
Photo: U.S. Marine Corps prepares a mine roller system for a mission in southern Afghanistan. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov