So far, Republican measures to reduce government spending have focused on eliminating unnecessary programs. There are plenty of those, as documented by a recent General Accountability Office (GAO) report that shows how cutting duplicative programs could save tens of billions of dollars.
But cutting programs nibbles around the edges of the spending problem. The real problem is the bloated bureaucracy of the government itself.
Those of us who have dealt with the federal government for decades have an impression that in most agencies, half the workers could be cut without impairing services.
That’s because, lacking a profit motive, government workers by and large have a different work ethic from those in private industry.
When they could make one call, federal workers call a meeting. When they could find an answer on the internet, they form a study committee. Instead of appointing one supervisor, they appoint five.
To be sure, there are exceptions. FBI agents, CIA officers, and the military work incredible hours and risk their lives to protect us. But even within those agencies, there are unnecessary levels of supervision and support staffers who could perform their work in half the time.
At one office in the Labor Department, employees on flextime were supposed to arrive at 6 a.m. but generally did not show up until 9 a.m., a former Labor Department employee told me.
At the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a new appraiser was told he performed his appraisals too fast. Instead of taking a week, he should take four months, a supervisor told him.
When I have proposed the theory that half of government workers could be cut, current and former federal employees I know have surprisingly agreed.
Indeed, a study by the Center for Naval Analyses found that when private contractors performed the work of federal employees in the Defense Department, the cost was 30 percent lower.
Other studies by the government have found savings of about a third when private contractors perform government work ranging from maintenance, data processing, and procurement to education and training.
Only when you are self-employed and work for yourself do you fully realize how much more efficient you can be because your output directly correlates with how much money you make. But instead of looking for ways to save money, government agencies actually look for ways to spend more money near the end of the fiscal year so their outlays won’t be reduced by Congress in the following year.
In a similar vein, President Obama has been requiring government agencies to reduce rather than increase outside contracting. In two years, he has increased federal government spending to 25 percent of the economy, from a modern average of between 20 and 21 percent.
I asked Rep. Paul Ryan, who is leading the Republican charge to reduce government spending, at a breakfast sponsored by the American Spectator and Americans for Tax Reform, about this issue.
Ryan said, “We agree the federal workforce has gotten far too large and sluggish. We don’t have the incentives to get productivity and efficiency. I think we need to trim back our workforce.”
Ryan cited the need for incentives to improve productivity and the need to cut workers through attrition. He said Republicans will begin addressing these issues this summer.
Neither approach will make a big difference. The real solution is to cut the workforce by a third, forcing federal employees to work more efficiently.
Until that happens, at least a third of the money we pay in federal taxes each year will go for sheer waste.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now.
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