As I begin the laborious process of doing my income taxes, I am again reminded – thanks to withholding and other payments I must make to the government – that I am paying for so many things that aren’t working.
What other institution, or business, could long survive with such a record of failure? Only the federal government endures with no requirement that it function effectively and efficiently.
Six weeks before the 1994 election, Newt Gingrich published a “Contract with America.” Among other things it promised voters that if they gave Republicans a House majority for the first time in 40 years, Republicans would “select a major, independent auditing firm to conduct a comprehensive audit of Congress for waste, fraud or abuse.”
Asked about it, Gingrich responded in an e-mail: “We promised to audit the House. We brought in PricewaterhouseCoopers. After a year they reported that they couldn’t audit the House (because) there were no coherent records. We then hired them to build a system that could be audited and since then there has been a transparent audit every year.”
Unfortunately that has not been enough to stem the growth of government under either party.
If the Republican presidential candidates want to capture voters’ attention in this turbulent and unpredictable election season, they should compose a new contract with voters.
Every federal agency and program either has a charter that established it and/or authorizing legislation in which its purpose is stated. Heads of those agencies should periodically be required to come before Congress and justify, not just their budgets, but their existence.
Are they living up to the charter or legislation that created their agency? If not, at least three options present themselves: Downsize the agencies and reduce their budgets to the size commensurate with whatever success they are having; privatize the agencies; or eliminate them.
There remains a strain of the Puritan ethic in most Americans. Not wasting money is also a part of that ethic.
First, though, we must get beyond the notion of “entitlement” and back to what our ancestors taught about personal responsibility with government as a last resort, not a first resource. That is going to take something akin to a spiritual awakening, because government is not about to shrink itself or give up the power it has over the lives of its citizens.
Perhaps a good starting point would be to consult the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson. In a letter to Thomas Cooper, dated Nov. 29, 1802, Jefferson said: “If we can but prevent the government from wasting the labours of the people, under the pretence of taking care of them, they must become happy.”
During what has been described as a “revolutionary” campaign season, the pitchfork brigade might consider among their demands chopping off the heads of a lot of unnecessary and costly government agencies.
Cal Thomas is a columnist with Tribune Content Agency.