Pivotal Moment or Passing Scandal?
May 29, 2013
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There is a familiar pattern for scandals in American politics: they degenerate into gotchas and personalities and then disappear with nothing having been reformed.
The breadth of the Big Government Scandals under President Obama is so great that House Republicans have an opportunity to break out of this pattern and make history.
They could choose to turn these scandals into learning opportunities that teach people something profound about Big Government. Together with the American people, Republicans in Congress could draw on these lessons to insist on a scale of reform which, holds its bureaucrats accountable, and shrinks its size and reach, and brings Big Government under control.
David Axelrod, a senior advisor to President Obama, is the person who stated most clearly the case for a deep, reform-minded response to the various scandals.
In trying to defend President Obama from responsibility in the IRS scandal, Axelrod clearly described the government as too big, out of control, unmanageable, and unaccountable. Here is his comment on Morning Joe:
“It’s an interesting case study, right, because if you look at the Inspector General’s report, apparently some folks down in the bureaucracy, and you know we have a large government, took it upon themselves to shorthand these applications for tax exempt status in a way that was, as I said, idiotic, and also dangerous because of the political implications…Part of being president is there’s so much underneath that you can’t know because the government is so vast.”
We already know enough to suspect that the “folks down in the bureaucracy” almost certainly did not just “take it upon themselves” to mishandle conservative organizations’ files. But let me repeat his definitive indictment of the current scale and structure of Big Government: “Part of being president is there’s so much underneath that you can’t know because the government is so vast.”
If House Republicans simply adopt as a goal a government small enough to be accountable, manageable, controllable, and responsible, they will have a goal around which to rally the American people.
Chairman Darrell Issa, who heads the House Oversight Committee, began the learning approach with his investigations of Fast and Furious (the gun running scandal in which the U.S. government sent illegal guns into Mexico and then lost them) and the Solyndra and other crony-capitalist “green” energy scandals.
Now the scandals Chairman Issa started to investigate are beginning to be dwarfed by the IRS, the Justice Department’s assault on the First Amendment, Benghazi, and the Sebelius scandal (in the Iran-Contra tradition) of shaking down private health care companies to pay for implementing Obamacare.
More scandals are presumably just waiting to come, not least in the Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Interior Department. Again and again environmental extremists have cast phony science and phony studies to push these agencies to slow down America’s development of natural resources.
Then there are the certain false payments and fraud scandals involving tens of billions of dollars from incompetent bureaucracies especially in healthcare, in Earned Income Tax Credit and in food stamps.
A methodical strategy by House Republicans to expose and dig into every uncontrollable, destructive part of the federal bureaucracy would educate the country deeply on the flaws and failures of Big Government. Axelrod is right. The federal government is currently too big to manage and too big to hold accountable.
A serious learning strategy seeking big enough solutions would rapidly arrive at the need to replace the current civil service system. When IRS official Lois Lerner is suspended from her job with full pay ($177,000 a year plus a total of $42,000 in bonuses over the last four years) most Americans see that as “vacation”. Yet everyone understands she “can’t” be fired.
But of course she could be fired. It requires changing the law to require accountability.
There can be no real changes without reforming the 142 year old civil service model that was designed to be rigid and unaccountable.
Moreover, reforming and curtailing the federal government so it could be properly managed would save taxpayers huge amounts of money.
A consortium of high tech companies estimated that simply applying modern management practices would save the federal government $125 billion a year (over a trillion dollars over the next decade).
The even bolder analysis by Strong America Now, an organization of Lean Six Sigma consulting specialists, estimated the mismanagement of the federal bureaucracy wastes more than $500 billion a year (that’s $6 trillion in savings in a decade including lower interest payments on the debt).
The positive impact on the private sector resulting from these types of reform might be even bigger than savings in the federal budget.
No one who has tried to reform the government has thought boldly enough about the changes that are needed in a government “so vast,” as David Axelrod put it.
He may have given House Republicans the right framework for holding hearings aimed at learning and reforming rather than the gotcha and posturing that has historically characterized Washington scandals.
The Obama Big Government Scandals could be the beginning of a new era of reform.
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