Cut the Budget, Or A Whole Department? You Decide!

When is the last time the Federal Government asked you what you want it to do?  Been a while, hasn’t it?

Here is yet another example of how elections really do matter.  The Trump administration, via Mick Mulvaney and his Office of Management and Budget, wants your input.

They set up a web page on the White House website and are asking for suggestions from citizens on how to make our federal government “more efficient, effective, and accountable to the American public.”

They want you to name names.  They are asking for details.  If you have seen a federal agency that is not operating at, shall we say, “peak efficiency”, here’s your chance to do something about it.  Trump and Mulvaney want to know which agencies, boards, and commissions are screwing up, wasting money, or are no longer even necessary, and visitors to the website are encouraged to share their ideas and solutions in detail.

In addition, citizens are asked to weigh in on federal government management reform and reorganization of the government.  How damn refreshing is that?

It’s hard to resist the temptation to “select all” for elimination or reform and hit enter.  So I zeroed in on all the departments and agencies related to the Indian Reservation debacle.

Rumor has it that Mulvaney and his team are also planning to “tech up” the government to modern business standards, something I have advocated for years.

Information technology (IT) advancements have been at the center of a transformation in how the private sector operates—and revolutionized the efficiency, convenience, and effectiveness with which it serves its customers. The Federal Government largely has missed out on that transformation due to poor management of technology investments, with IT projects too often costing hundreds of millions of dollars more than they should, taking years longer than necessary to deploy, and delivering technologies that are obsolete by the time they are completed. We are working to close the resulting gap between the best performing private sector organizations and the federal government.

— Office of E-Government and Information Technology

Of course asking for input and actually using it are two very different things.  But I find it flattering to even be asked, after two terms of total arrogance in the executive office.

So I hope you will take a few minutes and look over the long list of agencies.  Consider whether the National Endowment for the Arts is still deserving of taxpayer support, and check yes or no.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Do you love me,
Do you want to be my friend?
And if you do
Well then don’t be afraid to take me by the hand
If you want to
I think this is how love goes
Check yes or no

Check Yes or No – George Strait

On Vacation I Got Acute Government-Itis

Hatteras lighthouseWe took a short vacation trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina last week.  Cool place.  But it seems I just can’t go anywhere these days without getting a bad case of government-itis.

For my friends up north, the Outer Banks is a long, narrow strip of sand (peninsulas and islands) on the east coast of North Carolina, with the Atlantic Ocean to the east and river inlets to the west.  It is windy, mostly barren, and full of character, featuring eclectic art shops, t-shirts, beach houses, and fabulous seafood restaurants, wrapped up in a laid-back sea-life groove.  Not pretty, but cool.

Anyway, driving south from the civilized part of the OBX, we soon realized we were no longer on privately-owned sand.  The signs (‘Don’t Do This!’ ‘Do That!’ ‘Prohibited!’ ‘No!’ ‘Stop!’ ‘Don’t Even Think About It!’) were a dead giveaway.  We had landed on federal U.S. Park Service turf.

My wife is a lighthouse nut, so we followed the Park Service “Do This” and “Don’t Do That” signs to the Bodie Island Lighthouse parking area and set out across the grass to enjoy the view.  There we ran into a friendly-looking man in a crisp brown Park Service uniform, greeting visitors to the lighthouse.  I’ll call him Mr. Friendly.

We wanted to climb the stairs to see the view and the internals of the lighthouse.  But, unfortunately, it was closed to the public for another week or so.  Mr. Friendly did not know why the government had closed the lighthouse.  But we thought since we were there we should at least learn something about this interesting and still-operating historical landmark.

“How tall is it?”  I asked.  Mr. Friendly frowned.  “Gee, I don’t know.  I heard somebody say something about 160, would that be feet?  Does that make sense?”  he said.

“Well, ” I pressed, “when was it built?”  Again, Mr. Friendly apologized.  “I’m sorry, I just don’t know very much about this place.  I guess I should get a pamphlet or something.  You see, I’ve only been here since Thanksgiving.”

Hmm, Thanksgiving was almost five months ago.  My wife and I looked at each other, eyebrows raised with the same unspoken question: What the hell has Mr. Friendly been doing for the last five months?

We asked him where he was stationed before his post on the Outer Banks.  “Oh, I was in Wyoming!” he beamed.  Being from Montana, we are pretty familiar with Yellowstone Park, and asked him where he lived.  He said he had five houses while he was assigned to Yellowstone, the last one in Gardner, Montana.  Again, we glanced a knowing look at each other.  Several BLM and Park Service employees had told us over the years about the policy that allows management employees to transfer anywhere they wished, at any time, with all expenses paid.  Usually the feds even purchase the employee’s home (with taxpayer money) to make sure there is no hardship of any kind related to the transfer.

We left the Bodie Island lighthouse suffering early government-itis symptoms and headed for the next lighthouse (there’s really not much else to see) at Cape Hatteras.

Again we wove our truck through the Do and Don’t signs.  Again we were not allowed to go up in the lighthouse.  And again we were greeted by a friendly man in a crisp brown uniform.  But this guy knew his stuff!  He was loaded with all kinds of interesting and amusing facts and anecdotes about his lighthouse, and shipwrecks, and German U-Boats.  He attracted a big crowd of fascinated tourists and was happy as a clam to stand in the hot sun and talk with visitors all day.  In fact, he told us he hardly ever takes a day off.  In the world of tourist guides, this guy is Mr. Rockstar!

Then we noticed Mr. Rockstar’s name badge, which revealed that he is a volunteer.

We went into the small museum adjacent to the lighthouse, and passed two surly-looking women seated at empty desks in their crisp brown uniforms with government-employee badges.  I backtracked around several “Don’t” signs and greeted one on the way out.  “Hey, your guide out front is doing a great job,” I reported.  “Hmmph,” Mrs. Crabby snorted.  “He’s new, he doesn’t know anything.”  She turned to the other surly government employee and they quietly hissed to each other, making furtive glances out the door at Mr. Rockstar, who was blissfully entertaining a large and smiling group of tourists.

My acute government-itis flared up.  “Did you know,” I asked my wife, “that the average federal employee compensation is over $120,000 a year?”

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side

Doctor, my eyes have seen the years
And the slow parade of fears without crying
Now I want to understand

I have done all that I could
To see the evil and the good without hiding
You must help me if you can

Doctor My Eyes – Jackson Browne

“Most Govt. Spending Is Mandatory – That’s BS

Federal officials and elite media pundits ridicule conservatives who demand lower government spending levels. They say only 24% of the budget is discretionary, and most of that is military spending, so there is nothing anybody can do about increased spending and debt without taking a hatchet to social security benefits.

Horse Hockey. Federal-Spending-by-the-Numbers-2014-03-2-budget-trends_509There is a heck of a lot of discretion in that “mandatory” spending.

The Heritage Foundation points out that in 1965 only 27% of federal spending was mandatory. By last year mandatory spending had grown to 63% of the total, and it’s not just a function of our aging population. Over time our government has pushed a ton of new spending into the mandatory category.

Our government has made the discretionary decision to give millions of legal and illegal immigrants and refugees social security benefits, medicaid, disability, earned income credits, and a host of other “mandatory” federal benefits and subsidies. The majority of foreign-born in our country are on one or more welfare programs. And this does not even begin to address the cost of education, health care, fraudulent tax returns, cost of police and prisons and other infrastructure that cost billions. Our government has made the discretionary decision to not enforce the borders, to not follow up on visa violations, and to not keep illegal alien criminals out of the country. There is nothing mandatory about inviting foreigners to dip into the American taxpayers’ soup.

Our government has also made the discretionary decision to not crack down on waste and fraud in the mandatory spending programs. A study by Senator Tom Coburn’s office indicated as many as 45% of disability claims were questionable. Social security and food stamp fraud is rampant.

When it comes to spending, our government doesn’t have a reputation for using good discretion. It has dropped billions of public dollars on corrupt and hopelessly inefficient green energy programs and other corporate cronies. It has stifled economic development with disingenuous environmental and social programs. By its fed policy to eliminate interest, it has destroyed the US currency and transferred much of the wealth saved by a generation of middle class families to the big banks and their benefactors.

Our government has made discretionary payroll decisions that have resulted in government workers earning far greater compensation than private sector workers do, and many of them are frightfully ineffective and inefficient. Five of the six wealthiest counties in the United States are Washington, DC suburbs. Much of the cost of these discretionary payroll decisions are embedded in mandatory spending.

Worst of all, our government has made the discretionary decision to pass on an insolvent nation to our future generations by refusing for decades to even write, much less balance, an honest zero-based budget. They didn’t have to do it, they chose to, pandering for the votes that bring them personal power and wealth.

I, for one, am tired of hearing that there is nothing anybody can do to reduce government spending because it is “mostly mandatory”.  Elections have consequences, so we had better elect people who won’t use lame excuses to defend this unsustainable spending and debt.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side

You made me love you,
I didn’t want to do it!
I didn’t want to do it!
You made me want you,
And all the time you knew it!
I guess you always knew it!

You Made Me Love You (I Didn’t Want To Do It) – Judy Garland





shutdownRepublican congressional leaders, and many of their sheepish members, are all puckered up over ShutDown.

“ShutDown?  ShutDown!  Oh, no, that would be too risky.  Remember when we got blamed for shutting down the government?  Whenever there is a shutdown, we ALWAYS get the blame!”

So the Republican leadership strong-armed their members into passing the CRomnibus (Continuing Resolution / Omnibus) spending bill, giving Obama and Reid everything they wanted in the way of flatulent government spending all the way to September of 2015, the end of the fiscal year.  Never mind that the Republicans won big in the November elections and now hold majorities in both houses.  Now they can take it easy in DC until next football season, when the Redskins will no longer have RG3 to kick around.

“We just couldn’t take the risk,” they said.  Somebody might think we Republicans are MEANIES if we don’t commit to spend another $1.1 TRILLION for such critical programs as a new National Women’s Museum, continuing the corporate crony Import/Export Bank, and other little items like ObamaCare and benefits for illegal immigrants.

John Hayward, in Human Events, succinctly pointed out the lunacy of it all, saying:

There was no reason to give the defeated Democrats anything except a stop-gap bill to fund the government through January, at which point the incoming Republican majorities should have exercised control over everything. If the Democrats don’t like that deal, let them shut down the government in a fit of pique, and tell voters how the party they just threw out of power should be allowed to control their lives for an extra year. Not only would that be smart politics – giving the Republicans more fiscal leverage to stand up for America against Obama’s amnesty, instead of just funding for the Department of Homeland Security – but it would represent more sensible and responsible government. All of this multi-trillion-dollar monstrosity is linked together; all of it should be on the table; the flab should be liposuctioned out of every agency at once in a comprehensive plan for fiscal sanity and increased American liberty.

Why did the Republican leadership do it?  Why did they fritter away a golden opportunity to actually shrink government, as the entire GOP promised in their campaign speeches?  And, simultaneously, giving support to the knuckle-head programs they were elected to stop?

“Shutdown!  OMG, we’ll be accused of SHUUUUUT-DOOOOOOOWN!”

According to Ron Paul, “Most House and Senate members are so terrified of another government shutdown that they would rather vote for a 1,774-page bill they have not read than risk even a one or two-day government shutdown.”  Paul says instead of briefly shutting down 20% of the government offices, better we should permanently close major parts of the federal government – starting with the Federal Reserve, and followed closely by the Internal Revenue Service.

The Democrats aren’t afraid of shutting down the government as a tactic.  Rush Limbaugh pointed out that they voted to do just that when all 212 Democrat representatives in the House voted against the rule that set the stage for passage of the CRomnibus spending bill.  “In other words, 212 Democrats voted against the rule, voted against bringing up the final vote on the omnibus bill. Now, you could say, as I just did, that the Democrats essentially voted to shut down the government, but nowhere would this ever be portrayed as what actually happened,” Rush reported.  They weren’t the least bit worried about being blamed for the big SD.

But Boehner and friends shrink in terror at the very thought.

Frankly, I don’t get it.  I have lived through a number of government shutdowns, without any negative lingering effects.  I know, last time the big SD happened we paid some people double-time-and-a-half to put roadblocks on the highway so tourists could not see Mount Rushmore as they drove through the Black Hills.  And we spent extra money on barriers to keep World War II vets from seeing their monument.  But everybody got their government checks on time, soldiers and sailors still reported for duty, and as far as I know even the government employees who didn’t go to work got full back pay (bonus!) as soon as the SHUTDOWN crisis was over.

Not all Republicans are weak-kneed milktoasts.  67 GOP congressmen, including my rep Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), voted against the CRomnibus.  More Democrats voted against it than for it, but for different reasons.  Sadly, the majority of Republican members acquiesced to their leadership.  You can see how your congressman voted on this and other key issues at the Heritage Action Scorecard.

Personally, I am all for government shut down.  If that’s what it takes to get the budget under control, I say shut ‘er down.  And while we are at it, let’s take a good hard look at replacing the Republican leadership.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side

Shut it off, shut it off
Buddy, now I shut you down!

Shut Down – the Beach Boys


A repeat, but worth repeating . . .

There Is No “Candy Man”

prioritiesThese days we often seem to bounce around in life’s pin-ball machine, feeling that much around us is out of control.   We are distracted by a barrage of information as the media pulls us this way and that.  Generally, whichever news story has the hottest video footage or the most startling sound byte is pumped up to become the “important” story of the day, or the week.  Example: Sandra Fluke and her birth control.

I’m as guilty as anybody else.  I get upset and pumped up over things that are insignificant, both on a personal scale and in the bigger scheme of things.  When I find myself getting a little over-wound, I find it helpful to do a personal priority check.  What are the most important things to me, and in what order?

My top priorities always pertain to my family.  Are we healthy?  Are we safe from physical harm?  Are we financially okay?  Are we generally happy and fulfilled?  Are we preparing for our future?

Our brilliant founding fathers established a government that is “of” the people, and that carries responsibility.  It is our duty as citizens to prioritize the makeup and the work of our government.  Maybe it’s time we do a government priority check.  What are the most important things that our government should do, and in what order?

I look at government the same way I do insurance. I see government as a way that I can spend a portion of my personal resources to do the things I can’t do by myself.  Individually I can’t defend the borders of my neighborhood, much less my state or nation.  But I am willing to join other citizens to give some of my time or money for that purpose, because it is a priority for my family.  I can’t build a highway.  I can’t put out a big fire.  I can’t do brain surgery.  You get the picture.

Of course I can only spend a portion of my time and money on these shared priorities, because I have my own personal priorities to attend to.  So my government priority list is fairly short.   Our brilliant founding fathers had a short list too; it’s called the Constitution.

Lately I find that many of my government’s top priorities are way down my family priority list, or not on my list at all.   Our leaders operate like the “Candy Man”.  They believe they can keep adding benefits to those already in place, without limit, and without having to prioritize.  Irresponsible voters endorse that fantasy, but realists know it can’t go on.

It’s time for a good, hard look at priorities.  Our own personal priorities come first, of course, and our government priorities are an extension of that.  As we consider each government activity at our schools, our city and county commissions, our state and federal governments – as we consider the “Fiscal Cliff” – we must compare our government’s priorities with our own family priority lists.  If they don’t match up, we owe it to our families to do something about it.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side
The government takes everything we make
To pay for all of their solutions
Health care, climate change, pollution,
Throw away the Constitution!
The Government Can – Tim Hawkins

“US Government, Sorry I’m Not Able to Take Your Call”

When any organization gets too big it becomes hard to manage.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be managed.  Many huge companies are very well run.  Most people would agree that our military sets a high bar for disciplined management.  Operationally, at least.

Why is our federal government such a disorganized, inefficient mess?  What is lacking in the federal government world that other large organizations seem to have in abundance?

We do have organizational charts for our federal government.  There is an interactive one online.  Here’s the short version (click to enlarge):

The full version with all of the departments and all 3 million federal employees would probably cover the floor of Cowboys Stadium in a 12-point font. Of course within a nano-second, it would be obsolete.

Most Americans would expect to see our President in the top box.  After all, he has been known to say “the buck stops here,” even while pointing fingers in every direction and blaming historical figures for the nation’s problems.

The official federal org chart has “the Constitution” in the top box.  It would make more sense to me with “We the People” at the top.   We can hire and fire all those below us on the chart.  We can hold the President, the Congress, and (through appointments) the Supreme Court accountable.  It is up to us, as voters, to make sure that everyone in the federal government is doing what we want them to do.

But we citizens don’t agree on much of anything.  Many of us don’t really care how our government operates.  And even if we did, the organization is so huge that we have to rely on layers and layers of managers who we don’t know and will never see.

Is there anything we can do?  Where do we “citizen managers” start?

I think the first thing we should do is check to see who is at work.  Here is my plan, and I would like you to join me.

Go to and pick out five federal government employees.  It’s really easy to follow the links through the website to identify agencies and administrators at every level.  You might choose agencies in your hometown, or an office in which you are interested.  Or maybe you will just pick names and phone numbers at random.

At 2:30 on any weekday afternoon, or at 1:00 on a Friday, call the people on your list to see who is at work, and who is taking the rest of the day off.

In the unlikely event the federal employee you are calling actually answers the phone, say “Hi, I’m a taxpayer, and I’m just calling to make sure you are on the job.  Thank you!”

If not, leave a message of your choice, maybe something like:  “Hi, I’m your boss, a taxpayer; it’s 2:30 pm and you should be working.  I am going to follow up with your supervisor.”

Here are my random calls at 2:30 this Tuesday afternoon:

  • Rosanna Goodwill – Acting Director of Civil Rights, Federal Railroad Administration:  recording said she is “away from her desk, leave a message.”
  • Neil Moyer – Acting Director of Office of Policy, Federal Railroad Administration:  recording said he is “not available right now, leave a message.”
  • Don E. Watson – Historically Black College and University Capital Financing Advisory Board:  recording said he is “not available to take your call, leave a message.”  I wanted to ask him why we need his agency.

I left messages for each, expressing my disappointment that nobody in federal government is at work this afternoon.

I will allow that there are times when someone is legitimately not able to answer a call.  But I’ll bet the answer rate is under 10% after 2:00 every afternoon.  I have tried this experiment many times, and have never had my call answered.  Not once.

I don’t know if our government employees care if we catch them slacking.  If nobody ever checks on them, they might start to wonder if it matters whether they are there at all.   Anyway, we are the bosses, and we should make at least the minimum effort to supervise our employees.   Please make some calls!

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Okay. So no one’s answering.
Well can’t you just let it ring a little longer, longer, longer, ohhhhh!
I’ll just sit tight, through shadows of the night.
And let it ring for evermore.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Telephone Line – Electric Light Orchestra

Budgeting For Dummies

My wife and I were so excited when we bought our first home back in the 1970s, just a few miles west of Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls.   We hadn’t been there more than a month and were outside in the yard, raking leaves.  Suddenly we saw a huge plume of thick, black smoke rolling out of the base.

“What the heck is that?”  We looked at each other, and guessed that a plane must have crashed and exploded.

We looked in the newspaper the next day, and watched the TV news, anticipating a story about the mystery explosion at the base.  But there was no report.

Still curious, a few days later I asked a friend who worked at Malmstrom, “What was that big cloud of smoke at the base all about?  Was there a plane crash?”

Puzzled, he said nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.  Then he said, “Wait a minute, was that Friday?”  I said yes.  He said, “Oh, that’s normal.  On the last day of the month, they always pour their excess jet fuel on the ground and burn it so they get their full allocation for the next period.  They call it fire fighter training.”

It’s common knowledge.  The way budgeting works in every government department is thus:  you get what you got before, plus a little more.  Whether you need it or not.  Whether your department is functional or not.  Whether the program is still needed or not.  Whether we have the money or not.

Is it any wonder our governments are bloated, inefficient, and ineffective?  Can you imagine any family or business running like this?

Our US Senate has not even bothered to write a budget for over three years.  Didn’t seem to matter much, did it?

I can give countless other examples of the idiocy of our government budget process, but I’m sure you have plenty of your own.

Rick Hill, Montana candidate for governor, really got my attention when he said he would work to implement “Priority Based Budgeting” if elected.  It didn’t get much of a reaction in the press, but I think it is the singular most significant promise I have heard this year by any candidate for any office.

Imagine if Hill’s common-sense idea were implemented at all levels of government.  We would find thousands of government buildings and other assets no longer needed, agencies who compete inefficiently with each other to provide the same services, and buildings full of desks full of people whose purpose became obsolete long ago.

There is no excuse for the laziness of our elected officials, who shirk their oversight responsibilities for the myriad of government agencies and departments.

If elected, Rick Hill and Mitt Romney and other elected executives have a golden opportunity before them: they can press the RESET button.  It might work like this:

  • CITIZEN RESET – Every citizen who receives an entitlement (other than social security) has one year to re-apply for program qualification.  Are you receiving disability?  Let’s make sure you are still disabled (or ever were).  Are you on unemployment?  You will be required to show that you are actively making yourself available and employable.
  • GOVERNMENT RESET – Every department has one year to justify its existence, demonstrate and quantify the value it offers taxpayers, and request its first zero-based budget.  The executive will require legislative oversight that is meaningful, detailed, and transparent.  And all payments made by the government will be audited against the budget.

Using the data management capabilities that are commonplace in business today, fraud and waste in government are easily preventable.  In spite of their promises, our elected officials have never even tried, and there is no time like the present.

Oh, and all government employees will be required to read “Budgeting for Dummies.”  There will be a quiz.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Zero-based budgeting,
according to Billy Preston
(gotta love the hair!)

Nothin’ from nothin’ leaves nothin’
You gotta have somethin’
If you wanna be with me

Nothin’ From Nothin’ – Billy Preston