Sunday, May 06, 2007

Size Matters

We've now had a debate with most of the current wannabes on stage and dutifully making vacuous sounds in time with a moderators questions. If I were a pol looking to become President in 08 I wouldn't want to be near these guys. I would also be looking to steal a play from the Republicans playbook since they are not using anymore. You see, like the title says Size does matter...

when you are talking about the size of the .gov that is. Republicans all talk about shrinking the government and its' influence in our lives. But in fact ever since the 1930's our government has grown progressively larger, more complicated, and more intrusive. So if you are an independent running for President, or a Democrat looking to beat the RNC at it's own game one of your tenets should be to reduce the .gov to the right size.

So, what is the right size? To me, the right size is just big enough to do its' job efficiently. IF it takes a million civil servants to effectively and efficiently service the nation then so be it. But, I'm imagining that it will take a lot less.

First, Modernize and Standardize: Every desktop computer, every application, every palm pilot, every cell phone, every desk, every etc etc should be the same. The DOJ and the DOT should be on the same email system, use the same web browsers, and the stats should be kept in the same database system. I will give credit where it is due that the .mil has made heroic attempts to standardize since the late 80's and the civil side is trying as well. But, the President is the day-to-day supervisor of the fed and should appoint Guido the arm breaker to actually enforce standardization.

Modernization means that the 1960's mainframe 3270 systems or thier many emulators need to go away after being uploaded to a modern network DBMS. Modernization means that paper should be banned except for those items required by law to be kept in a physical manner. I read a story in 1980 (Popular Science I think) about the coming paperless office...... It can be done. Right now we kill more trees with printers than we did with typewriters. Modernization means that we leverage technology do reduce the numbers of administrative (bureaucrats) workers to the minimum number needed to be efficient. It means that the number of supervisory levels needs to be pared back. In other words, it means some people are going to have to either retrain, or leave government service.

I don't wish to put anyone out of work. If clerk number one is no longer needed due to technical improvements, then retrain that person to work in another office. When she retires or quits, don't automatically hire a replacement. Within twenty years a continuing program of modernization can pay for itself in the number of workers not hired.

Second, Get rid of government agencies that are no longer needed. A good example is the Rural Electrification Administration. That job was done. But instead of eliminating the program, they renamed it the Rural Utilities Service (RUS). I would check to see if the RUS is still performing a service in the interest of the people.

Our wannabe independent President would want to initiate a cycle of justification. Every year various agencies would be scrutinized to see if they were still needed. Just as we elect the government in cycles (one third of the Congress every two years for example) we should review departments every 2-3 years to see if they are still needed. Does the people of the United States really, truly need the the Bureau of Indian Affairs for example? Are they still fulfilling a mission in the best interests of the nation at large? Every facet of the federal government should be required by the nation as a whole. Indian Affairs for example may be big in Oklahoma, but minimal in New Hampshire. If the need cannot be standardized to the fifty states then it should not be a federal program. Send it to the States to administer as they are closer to the issue.

It boils down to a President and Congress deciding to openly get out of the public's lives and allow the States and Localities to actually do thier jobs.

This reduction in government isn't a one or two term thing. It isn't a Presidential thing entirely either. Instead it needs to be a tenet of government as a whole.

Realistically, we have the tools needed to do this. But, do we have the will? I'm not sure.

Government Growth
Rural Utilities Service
Election Cycle Data
Bureau of Indian Affairs


  1. I like the thoughtful tone of your essay. Some of your ideas merit further consideration. For instance, consider a hypothetical future in which the private labor market is saturated, but public employment provides adequate job opportunities for the rest of the labor force. Would you pare government programs as relentlessly, even if doing so would produce partial unemployment? What are the valid goals for government in such a situation, bearing in mind the well established distaste of most healthy adults for living on public assistance?

  2. Thanks for the kind words. In your hypothetical future I would continue to pare the government down to the most efficient model possible. As I said, I am not big/little government. I believe that as government becomes more efficient and simultaneously gets out of the peoples way, our economy will boom and the private sector will have more jobs than ever.