My congressman, Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), frequently holds town hall meetings in his home district. Each meeting includes a half-hour presentation of current, relevant information and a one-hour question and answer period. Mulvaney tells his constituents what is on his mind, and then really listens to them. His responses are honest and direct, no evasion or weasel-words. He is knowledegable, articulate, engaged, and pragmatic.
Mulvaney sets the bar high for transparency and communication from a US Congressman. A while back I attended a meeting by a Republican congressman from North Carolina and the contrast is striking – from the outset he was defensive, unprepared, and seemed to consider the attendees to be combatants rather than constituents. He cemented his position as a Washington insider, solidly aligned with Boehner and the good-old boys, was not up-to-speed on facts and details, and had no intention of listening to any conservative point of view from his audience.
So I’m tickled to have Mulvaney representing me in Washington, DC. Still, I always leave his meetings totally bummed. Here’s why:
Congressman Mulvaney sees the waste, fraud, and over-spending in government first-hand and with clarity. He is loaded with anecdotes and examples of Washington’s out-of-control checkbook and frequently quotes from Senator Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) “Waste Book”. Mulvaney knows how bad the corruption and ineptitude is, and hates it as much as we taxpayers do.
But then, after exploding our heads with his tales of fiscal terror, Mulvaney pulls the chain. “There’s not really much we can do about it,” he says. “The federal budget is so huge that it is impossible to find and correct problems in large enough increments to make a difference.”
Mulvaney points out that only 29% of our $3.5 trillion annual federal spending is discretionary – the rest is mandatory. If 5% of that $1 trillion in discretionary spending is wasted, we would need 50,000 fiscal repairs of one million bucks each to fix it.
So nobody even tries to stop corruption and waste.
Does that sound horrific? It’s actually worse. I would bet the percentage of waste and fraud in the discretionary part of the budget is much larger than 5%. Further, I submit that the waste and fraud in the mandatory part of the budget is just as bad or worse!
Our legislators have oversight responsibility, but do not have the time or resources to even begin to supervise federal programs and departments. And do you think for a minute the government bureaucrats give a damn about 5% of somebody else’s money being wasted or stolen? Quite the opposite – the more money their respective departments spend, the greater their power, prestige, and salaries. They know nobody is watching, and they know nobody ever gets fired.
So is our federal fiscal viability as hopeless as Congressman Mulvaney fears? It shouldn’t be. And I hate that we, as a nation, have given up.
Here are some suggestions from a retired CFO (me) who has run businesses by the numbers and knows that waste and fraud are not inevitable:
- Eliminate government employee unions – it is impossible to manage people who can’t be fired, and it is immoral that the campaigns of elected officials are funded by the very employees they are supposed to manage
- Prosecute any officials who are caught stealing or wasting federal funds
- Pass a balanced budget amendment, with restrictions on raising taxes – in other words, set and adhere to a real budget
- Audit and/or eliminate the Federal Reserve – the cancerous growth of our federal government will continue until we stop printing fiat money
- Return most government functions and authority to the states – restrict the federal government to only those functions specified in the Constitution
- Require detailed public online reporting of all federal spending – sunshine is the best disinfectant
And that’s just a start.
Could federal government waste and corruption be brought back under control? You bet! But, like Mulvaney, I fear that it won’t. Because as of now not enough Americans give a damn. Too many of us are under-informed, disengaged, overwhelmed, or mired in self-interest. Just the way the Washington insiders like it.
It will take a big bang – something really strong – to get our attention.
Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side
I’ve been feeling so much older
Frame me and hang me on the wall
I’ve seen you fall into the same trap
This thing is happening to us all, yeah
Something so strong could carry us away
Something so strong could carry us today, yeah
The lights went out but the sound system was working – so the band kept playing! Crowded House playing in the dark in 2007.