Lean, productive and efficient aren’t words that leap to mind when most Americans think about the federal government — and with good reason! Our government has grown too large, redundant and wasteful. A wit once said, “For every action there is an equal and opposite government program.”
While we can debate what responsibilities government should undertake, we can all agree that government should be more streamlined, efficient, cost-effective and rational. Businesses large and small reinvent themselves constantly — waste, duplication, poor budgeting and lousy service are a death sentence. Shouldn’t government be as vigilant? What’s needed is some good old-fashioned business know-how.
That’s why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports the Obama administration’s efforts to reorganize and streamline the federal bureaucracy, eliminate wasteful spending, and consolidate and merge agencies, departments and programs.
In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama promised to conduct a top-to-bottom review of government operations to save money, improve customer service and enhance competitiveness. We were encouraged that he appointed the nation’s first-ever chief performance officer, Jeffrey Zients, one of the country’s foremost experts on business management.
The Chamber of Commerce has helped facilitate Zients’ outreach to the business community. He is an organization and efficiency expert, has the president’s backing, and wants to hear from businesses of all sizes about their experiences with the federal government and their ideas to improve it.
Two years on the job, Zients has avoided billions of dollars in improper government payments — including payments made to dead people or those in jail. He has begun to sell off unused federal buildings and property (where the lights and utilities were left on) and deployed new technologies to boost efficiency.
In addition to implementing cost-saving efficiencies, the administration has promised to “think big” about government reorganization. As long as reorganization streamlines governmental functions, trims overhead, and modernizes information and services, it is a worthy and long-overdue objective. The last major government reorganization that met these criteria took place during the Herbert Hoover administration. Most efforts since, however well-intentioned, have ended up creating new government agencies and extra layers of bureaucracy.
As Zients develops ideas for the president, the Chamber of Commerce will urge him to craft a plan that actually reduces the size and cost of government. While we have argued strenuously that a number of the administration’s actions have, indeed, unnecessarily expanded federal powers, we stand ready to support any serious effort to streamline government and continue to work with Zients and others to help make it happen.
Wasting money is never a good idea. At a time of record deficits and growing public debt, it’s a terrible idea. But more than just lost dollars are at stake. Some 86 percent of Americans believe the federal government is broken, and trust in it is at an all-time low. Reorganization will not fully restore Americans’ lost faith in government any more than it will balance the federal budget. But it would represent a significant step forward.
It’s time for Washington to finally get serious about cutting the fat, consolidating duplicate programs, instilling sound financial principles and practices, and bringing the delivery of needed public services into the 21st century.
— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.