Time for another 'War on Waste'?
President Obama's fiscal 2011 budget would expand the size of the federal workforce to more than 2.1 million workers, well beyond the government's size when Bill Clinton declared in 1996 that "the era of big government is over."
Most of the hires would come at the Pentagon, Department of Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs. The budget also sets aside money to hire more federal contract acquisition officers and calls for cutting contracts by "insourcing" certain "inherently governmental functions."
Paul Light, a leading scholar on the federal government and presidential appointment process, has warned in recent days that the proposals could become a political wedge issue, potentially jeopardizing long-needed funding and staff increases, as the growing tea party movement within the Republican Party seeks to organize around the traditional GOP concern about the size of the federal government. (Shorter mentions of his concerns have also appeared here and here.)
"The hires are legitimate, but sooner or later conservatives are going to look at these details and will bang away on Obama and the Democrats,” he said in a recent interview.
Massachusetts Sen.-elect Scott Brown campaigned on the issue of freezing federal salaries, arguing the government should hold off on expansion plans until it found a way to control costs and the debt.
It's an easier issue to exploit and explain than concerns about the ballooning national debt, Light said. Skeptical voters less familiar with fiscal policy are more likely understand and can be led to believe that the federal government wastes a great amount of money.
Similar threats in the 1990s led the Clinton administration to launch Al Gore's "reinventing government" project, Light said.
Now it's time for Democrats to do it again, Light said. Start with the presidential appointments process by cutting the number of political positions in half, a move that could save taxpayers at least $200 million annually.
"That’s not chicken feed," Light said. “This has been around for awhile, it’s one of the hidden problems in the sluggish appointment process. You’ve just got too many people to push through the process.”
Then look at retirements: Cut one-third of federal positions being vacated by retirees anywhere between GS 11 and GS 15, which could save another $5 billion annually.
Then lawmakers can look at streamlining the bureaucracy, contractors and contracting pay. Oh, and that ballooning debt and deficit.
"There’s an agenda here for Democrats and they need to get on the offense before Republicans put them on the defense," Light said.
What do you think? The comments section eagerly awaits your thoughts.
Posted by: paullight | February 3, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse
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