Tone At The Top, Or Why Is Government Too Big

There are important lessons one can gleam from the business world.  The Boss’ attitudes and consistent expression of these attitudes directly influences the performance of subordinates.  If the Boss is intolerant or cheats, sooner or later, so will the subordinates.

We hear, from many in Congress, particularly conservatives, that government is too big.  They lament that if only government were pared back, life would be so much better,  Hmmm.

When asked what they mean, conservatives point to the $3.6 trillion in spending and say, “see there!”

That, of course, is their first step down the wrong path.  About half of the $3.6 trillion are disbursements for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  These expenditures are tied to the size of the population and have nothing to do with how big government may be.

The other half, however, is fair game for the charge that government is too big.  (It is also fair to claim Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are too costly but this criticism should rest upon the merits of entitlements alone.)  Departments of Interior, Energy, Transportation, Education, etc should, however, all be open to scrutiny.

What purpose does the Department serve, what results does it produce, and is the bang worth the buck spent?

I am quite sure that any such Department by Department review would be a tough exercise.  Not only would agreement on purpose be difficult but purpose would be silently mixed in with political patronage.  Never the less, not having this discussion perpetuates the potential for ineffectiveness and high cost of government.

Just cutting a Department’s budget does not ensure effectiveness.  Without addressing effectiveness, cutting budgets usually makes the rest of the budget even less effective.

So what does “tone at the top” have to do with the size of government?

President Obama has rarely addressed the effectiveness of the executive branch.  The President has instead from time to time defended the role of government.  On occasion such as Hurricane Sandy, the President easily pointed to the value of FEMA.  But he has not dwelled upon how much better FEMA might be.

The President has authority over the executive branches of government.  He does not control Congress.  He can authorize all sorts of reviews and reorganizations within the executive branch, and can measure the effectiveness of these changes.  Yet none of this productivity improvement has taken place.  Why?

Beginning with the obvious, there is no immediate political value and depending upon the cuts, there are many political land mines.  But do you recall any President who has pledged to make government “run” better?  Instead what we have heard is to eliminate this or that department, or a spirited defense of head start or the need for border security.

The Obama “tone at the top” is about doing the right things.  In Washington, it is very difficult to see the right things being done.  Guantanamo is still open.   Afghanistan is still an active war.  “Talking points” are messaged not for increased information but just the oppositve.

President Obama is not alone with an absence of “effectiveness” in his “tone at the top”.  But he’s the big dog now.

Explore posts in the same categories: Barack Obama, Democratic Party, Politics, Republican Party

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2 Comments on “Tone At The Top, Or Why Is Government Too Big”

  1. jeremiah757 Says:

    It seems to me that Governor Romney proposed exactly this. Sure, there was big talk about cutting and slashing, to amuse the groundlings, but this is what he meant. Clearly, an M&A guy from Bain knows how to do a top down budget review. But Americans do not want a smaller government. They want cushy government jobs for themselves, with fat benefits and an exemption from Obamacare. We are now on the path trod by France, where only the government thrives, carried on the back of a struggling private sector.

    • Jeremiah, I am less confident than you that a President Romney would have taken action on the number of government employees or the efficiency of their work… I think both parties prefer to pass our government jobs for votes…

      Please keep in mind, however, that half of the government budget expenditures go to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid… Cuts in that area of spending means only less benefits, not less people or more efficient service.

      Hmmm. France… Hmmm. I do like their cheese.

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