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Posted at 2:55 PM ET, 03/ 2/2011

'Sometimes it's useful to have multiple small programs'

By Ezra Klein

Kevin Drum offers some words of caution on the GAO report -- or, more specifically, the reaction to the GAO report -- that I plugged yesterday:

First, keep your eye out for attempts to turn the GAO report into a fight not over waste, but the over the actual programs themselves. Perhaps federal homelessness programs really could be run better, but my guess is that what Coburn and a lot of his allies really want is simply to slash funding for homelessness programs. Exaggerated accusations of waste and duplication are a convenient cudgel in that fight, but that's all they are.

Second, it's worth keeping in mind that sometimes it's useful to have multiple small programs instead of one big coordinated program because small programs can experiment with different approaches to see what works best instead of being stifled by a single big bureaucracy. It's also the case that sometimes it's actually more efficient to have multiple programs. A homelessness program aimed at helping municipal governments is probably best run out of an agency that already deals with municipal governments and doesn't have to reinvent the wheel just to figure out who the players are and how to do outreach. Ditto for programs aimed at church groups, nonprofits, law enforcement, etc.

As he notes, the fact that we have five programs, each with a $250 million budget, doing worker training doesn't mean we only need one program. It means there might be a case for combining the five programs and either spending less or more, depending on whether we feel it'll help us achieve our goals. But this is why people who want to see government work better have to be out in front on these kinds of efforts. The point of ferreting out possible inefficiencies in government is to get to a more efficient government. But if the people discovering duplication and fragmentation and possible pockets of waste are people who primarily want to cut the size of the government, then that'll color how their findings are sold.

By Ezra Klein  | March 2, 2011; 2:55 PM ET
Categories:  Government  
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This is another form of propaganda..that might need a look!

Posted by: jetlone | March 2, 2011 3:58 PM | Report abuse

Kevin Drum may be on to something there. I would like to see more of this shifted to competitive block grant programs that put the states into competition with one another. Homeless programs could probably be better managed at the state level in any case if they had the dedicated funding that could not be raided for other state financial needs. A program that based funding on performance, with the best and most productive programs getting the highest funding levels would make a lot of sense.

Posted by: truthwillout | March 2, 2011 3:59 PM | Report abuse

These programs are a rounding error compared to the total federal budget. Also, compared to the waste and fraud in defense contracting.

Posted by: labonnes | March 2, 2011 4:02 PM | Report abuse

We have taken on faith that we want a more efficient government, but that's not the case. For a hundred years, we have designed government to be accountable, not efficient. Scott Walker selling off state assets in no-bid situations is very efficient, but not at all desirable, for example. Holding government to the standard that they must be ultimately accountable AND ultimately efficient is not fair.

This is not to say government can't be *more* efficient. I spent a lot of my time in state civil service making things work better. But it can't be the ultimate goal, unless we want to return to the days of Boss Tweed (which I firmly believe the people taking advantage of the Tea Party would love).

Posted by: mikeshort1 | March 2, 2011 4:05 PM | Report abuse

You had it right the first time. Drum's words of caution are lame, very lame.

Posted by: stevie4 | March 2, 2011 4:05 PM | Report abuse

And none of the reasons for multiple programs make sense if there is NO competition to achieve cost control. Bureaucrats and Dictators have tried throughout history to run government by regulation... and waste and cronyism and nepotism and bribery and corruption always results.

Competition in an open and fair market is the only way to control prices. All these programs should have been run competitively in an open market where success rates and costs are controlled by competitors undercutting price and documenting success/failure.... all without the active influence of politicians or bureaucrats.

In fact, much of this should have been done at state and local levels where the objectives could better fit the needs of the local communities that are funding them and where local voters can judge the value to the community.

Government thrives on the complexity and obscurity that allows politicians to pretend to be introducing "new" programs to solve problems, ignoring that the same problems and programs had been funded for decades and failed for decades ... all obscured by the noise and bussle of a BIG government that "must be good" because it is so BIG.

BIG is BAD in monopolies, dominating corporations, dominating unions and dominating governments! Public schools, public housing, public health services, public sector unions, etc. are all monopolistic enterprises that hide their real costs and deceive us about their real benefits.

Government should specialize in issuing vouchers and testing for results... the actual providing of services should be performed by competing ...for profit... companies. Non-profit all too often means a total lack of motivation for cost control, quality service and timely delivery, coupled with rich, gouging administrators who set their own salaries and suck the life out of the organization.

Posted by: Karl_Quick | March 2, 2011 4:49 PM | Report abuse

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