Share

Policy: Budgets & Deficits

Time for a national commission to reduce the size of government

By |
Opinion,Cal Thomas,Columnists,State Department,Waste and Fraud,Budgets and Deficits

The Fiscal Times reported last week that the State Department has missing files or incomplete files for more than $6 billion in State Department contracts. Steve Linick, State's inspector general, issued a “management alert” warning that “significant financial risk and a lack of internal control at the department has led to billions of unaccounted dollars over the last six years.”

“For instance,” writes the FT, “a recent investigation of the closeout process for contracts supporting the mission in Iraq, showed that auditors couldn’t find 33 of the 115 contract files totaling about $2.1 billion. Of the remaining 82 files, auditors said 48 contained insufficient documents required by federal law.”

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf says the $6 billion isn’t missing at all, but that State is merely experiencing “bureaucratic issues,” which it’s addressing.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but if you once had something, but can’t find it now, it’s missing, right? Not in government, apparently.

The lack of internal control is an apt description for what is wrong with the federal government, which seems incapable of controlling its spending.

Oh, how far we’ve come from the days of our grandparents, who lived through the Great Depression and World War II. Then, slogans like “waste not, want not” and “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” were necessities not just for winning a war, but surviving as a family.

Then, children were told to clean their plates because somewhere in the world people were starving. The Puritan ethic reminded people to always live within their means. Envy, greed and entitlement were regarded as “sins.”

I recall an address given by the late Catholic Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. He asked, “How do you define a football field?” His answer? “By its boundaries.” Sheen’s point was that when boundaries are crossed, trouble ensues.

The Founders gave us a Constitution with boundaries that restrict the power and reach of government. We have exceeded those boundaries, which is why we have massive debt and government no longer works.

The duplicative nature of many government programs and the “eternal life” most programs seem to have without ever having to prove their effectiveness, has contributed not only to the debt, but the deepening cynicism felt by many Americans. According to a recent Reason-Rupe poll, Americans were asked to guess between zero to 100 percent what percentage of their elected officials use their political power to help their friends and hurt their enemies. On average, the poll found that Americans think 66 percent of their elected officials do so. They were then asked to guess between zero to 100 percent what percentage of their elected officials were corrupted by special interests and lobbyists. They responded that 70 percent were probably corrupted by special interests. Congress has an “approval rating,” according to the poll, of just 17 percent and President Obama's approval numbers continue to decline (43 percent) with 51 percent disapproving of his performance.

To return government to its constitutional boundaries we need a new Grace Commission. Established in 1982 by President Ronald Reagan and headed by businessman J. Peter Grace, the Grace Commission conducted an audit of the federal government with the goal of eliminating waste, fraud and abuse. Its voluminous report was presented to Congress, which promptly shelved it. In Washington, if you haven't noticed, money is power.

What’s needed now is a new version of the Grace Commission that resembles the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, tasked with closing outmoded military bases. Congress gave BRAC the power to close the bases, and BRAC gave Congress cover so if anyone complained about lost jobs or negative economic effects in their districts, the commission could be blamed.

Most businesses conduct audits or internal reviews to make sure they are operating efficiently. Not the federal government.

Republicans, who have occasionally proposed fiscal restraint, should promise an audit of the federal government if voters return them to a Senate majority in November and the White House in 2016. It will be difficult, but it must be done or the future of increasing debt and lack of personal responsibility will cripple the country, perhaps beyond healing.

Focusing on “what works” and getting rid of what doesn't is the way back from the fiscal brink. We had better start soon, though, because spending like there's no tomorrow will ensure there isn't one for the country bequeathed to us.

CAL THOMAS, a Washington Examiner columnist, is nationally syndicated by the Tribune Content Agency.
View article comments Leave a comment
Author:

Cal Thomas

Columnist
The Washington Examiner