Why the Government Shouldn't Run Anything Extra

Sometimes small examples point out huge issues.

Two local radio commentators were talking yesterday morning on a Charleston, SC radio talk station about the issue of providing IPad2’s to children in a few local schools. One caller pointed out that it might be preferable to use the money for merit pay for better performing teachers. One of the hosts stated that “the money was allocated for capital improvement projects” and could not be used for pay. It seems like a small thing but it is not. It is typical of government at all levels and shows why citizens get so disgusted with the way government functions.

The money for the IPad2 computers is being distributed from a “pot of money” that was allocated for school improvement projects. Remember that this money was collected in taxes from citizens and that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The legislature or school board hung a piñata of many millions of dollars without any specific projects or uses in mind and people are now swinging sticks and fighting over where to spend the money which falls out. Politicians like to allocate spending this way because: 1) they can talk to potential voters about how they support education, 2) they don’t have to actually make any decisions; 3) they don’t have to do any work, and 4) when the money gets used in crony deals or for dumb projects, they can claim that it was someone else’s fault. The very fact that the money is not allocated for specific projects leads to back room deals, lobbyists influencing spending, and political payoffs.

The IPad2’s might be a great idea but one would think that if buying IPad2s for students IS a great idea, there would be a public hearing where the people proposing the idea would explain: 1) how it will help the students, 2) the cost of the proposed project versus the cost of traditional textbooks; 3) how software updates, security, and content is managed, 4) how maintenance and repairs are handled, and 5) how they impact of the program will be measured and assessed. Then, if the legislature or school board is convinced that the idea has merit, the funds are allocated to cover the program, and not a penny more. As the judge in My Cousin Vinny stated, (paraphrasing) “That is a well thought out, cogent argument”. But that is not what happens. The money is distributed by lobbyist influence, political pay offs and to the “network of the connected”.

Another result of allocating money in the government manner is that every September is Christmas for the government. Financial managers in the government know that any money allocated and not spent will be withheld the next year. Therefore, every September there is a buying spree for every government agency to ensure that the funding is spent, whether the purchases are needed or not. The money falls downhill. The big agency “dumps” money down to smaller organizations that have to spend the money or pass it down even further. If the government was surprised one year and was only allowed to spend in September at the average rate of the previous eleven months, billions of dollars would be saved and the waste exposed (which is why that will never happen).

One of the arguments for the recent health care bill was that funding could be obtained from waste recovery. Waste is built into the government spending and anyone who works in government knows that waste recovery is a false promise. Until the government leaders who spend the money are held responsible for the way that they allocate the money and do their business, waste will continue and cronyism will continue.

Anyone who thinks the government runs anything more efficiently than private industry is deluded, at best. There will always be someone who pipes up with, “What about the military?” Anyone who says that has obviously never been in the US military.