Time For A Change – Make Govt. Employees Accountable

Government-Employee

photo courtesy WesternJournalism.com

If you got caught spending most of your time at work watching porn on your computer, do you think you might get fired?  If you owed money to your employer and refused to pay it, would you expect to keep your job?

If you are a federal employee, no worries.  Less than one-half of one percent get fired.  Congressman Mark Meadows (R-NC) said, “It’s so laborious for managers to address poor performers that sometimes it’s easier for them to ignore the bad employee or give suspension with pay and hope that it corrects itself.”

With the average annual pay for federal jobs approaching $100k, plus fat benefits packages and generous time off, taxpayers should expect top-notch performance.  But we all know that, for the most part, federal departments and agencies are the gold standard for ineptitude and inefficiency.  Because government employee unions bubble-wrap their members, our government must hire several people for every job that would require only a single worker in the real world.

Unlike jobs in the private sector, where every employee must contribute to profit or hit the highway, nobody other than Congressman Meadows seems to care about the buildings full of bodies accomplishing little or nothing.  The agency and department heads are not concerned; it’s not their money!  Plus, the measure of success and power in government is not what you accomplish, or how much money you save the taxpayers – it’s how many employees you accumulate.

And the head bureaucrats are as unaccountable as the line employees.  When called to task by congressional oversight committees for poor performance, or even illegal acts, they no longer feel compelled to even answer questions.  They know that their bread is buttered by the administration, not Congress.  Who is in charge?  Nobody.  The buck stops nowhere.

At a time when our economy can no longer drag the dead weight of bloated government behind it, and our $20 trillion debt keeps rocketing, and there really is serious work that our employees should be doing, can’t somebody – maybe a presidential candidate for instance – at least mention government accountability?

The Heritage Foundation has studied the issue and made recommendations as part of its “Blueprint for Reform – A Comprehensive Policy Agenda for a New Administration in 2017“.  Among many important reform policies, this ambitious project addresses the pay and benefits gaps between federal and private sector employees, and suggests some ways to make firing bad employees at least thinkable, if still not easy (see pages 99 – 102).

I’d like to see employee unions either shut down or severely restricted.  The federal government is a monopoly, where the elected can spend taxpayer money to get themselves re-elected.  Government employees should at least be hired at-will, just as they are in the private sector, so managers can hire, discipline, and fire without facing union intervention or a morass of federal regulations.   And department officials must be made accountable to Congress too, or the notion of congressional “oversight” is no more than a shallow joke.

Like any rehab program, the first thing we have to do is admit that we have a problem.  Then we have to work on some serious change in accountability.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side

A change . . .
Would do you good.
I said a change . . .
Would do you good!

A Change Would Do You Good – Sheryl Crow

 

 

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

 

 

 

Mulvaney: Budget Committee to Push Zero-Based Budgeting

zero

see this article in its entirety at Watchdog Arena

There is no mystery to budgeting.  Whether you manage the finances for your family, your little league baseball team, or your business, you and everybody else in the private sector makes spending decisions the same way:  you determine how much money is available, and you set priorities for how to spend (or save) it.

Why is our federal government incapable of writing and managing a budget?

Those of us who live in the real world use a process called zero-based budgeting.  You may have never heard of the term.  It is such a common-sense approach that we all do it instinctively.  We categorize our spending into “needs” and “wants”.  Needs get priority.  We provide our families the necessary things like shelter and food before we start thinking about vacations, big screen televisions, and concert tickets.  If there are remaining “discretionary” funds, we decide how to spend or save them.

Unfortunately, that’s not the way that government – especially the federal government – thinks.

The way government has operated for many years, every department is entitled to the amount they spent last year, plus an increase.  Call it “continuing resolution”, “continuing appropriation”, or whatever – I call it flat-out laziness.  One of the primary responsibilities of our congress is to make sure that the funds taken from citizens are necessarily and appropriately spent.  Oversight of government spending should be priority one.  Unfortunately, it gets little, if any, attention from our elected officials, who spend their days pondering such weighty issues as whether the one tenth of one percent of the population who are sexually confused should get to choose which public bathroom they use.

You see, it is hard work to dig into the details of how each department and agency spends its money.  It’s much easier to just give each whatever amount they got last year, plus a kicker – because the employees probably deserve a raise, right?

Wouldn’t it be a refreshing change if congress did its job and started managing our money the way the rest of us do?

Maybe there is hope.  I asked my congressman, Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), who sits on the House Budget Committee, if there is any chance that the federal government might adopt zero-based budgeting.  I was surprised at his answer.  “I fully expect the House to pass budget reform this year, and that will include zero-based budgeting,” Mulvaney said.

This could be big.  Existing programs are never cut back, only increased.  And new programs require new funding.  Is it any wonder our national debt spirals out of sight?  Imagine our government agencies having to justify every program, every expenditure, every employee, every line item, on a yearly basis.  Just like businesses do.  Just like your family does.

“There is a chance it will pass and get signed,” Mulvaney said.  “The budget process is really, really boring but really, really important.  And it hasn’t been reformed since 1974.  It will be the biggest story you won’t hear much about in DC this year.”

Some political analysts advocate the “penny plan” as a budget-balancing measure.  The penny plan would cut one cent across the board from every dollar the federal government spends for five years, and then put a cap on national spending at 18% of GDP.  Mathematically it works, but it doesn’t address the fact that some spending is totally wasted, while not enough is allocated to other important work that taxpayers would support.  Cutting back on totally worthless programs while starving worthwhile ones is not good oversight.

Many programs, like the corrupt, obsolete Export-Import Bank, continue year after year with no justification other than inertia.  To this point, Congress hasn’t been able to muster the willpower to put these programs to bed even after they have long outlived their purposes, and they continue to stumble around like aimless zombies lost in timeless hell.  If every program had to justify its budget annually, we could quickly gain the upper hand over our exploding debt.

Here’s hoping the most important number in government this year is zero.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right SideMaybe I’ll win
Saved by zero.
Maybe I’ll win!
Saved by zero.

Saved By Zero – the Fixx

 

Is Federal Waste and Fraud Inevitable?

graphic courtesy of ProofDirectory.orgMy 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

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

Something So Strong – Crowded House

The lights went out but the sound system was working – so the band kept playing!  Crowded House playing in the dark in 2007.

We Care So Much About You, We’ll Spend All Your Money To Prove It!

Winter PrepIt snowed in Charlotte last week.  What a perfect opportunity for local officials to demonstrate what’s wrong with government.

It seems that nothing is more important to public officials than public relations.  They are compelled to show that they really, really “care” about us and our safety.  After all, their mission is to protect us from anything evil that could possibly harm us, right?

This need to be seen as our faithful guardians often transcends common sense, and economic sense.

On Saturday the meaty urologists (weathermen) predicted rain and snow to arrive by the middle of the next week.  So on Sunday, three days before the expected weather event, the DOT sent out an army of trucks, each manned by a driver and a second guy riding shotgun (maybe to balance the truck so it would not have uneven weight distribution causing premature tire wear?) to spray little white lines of brine on the streets.  Surely seeing these little white squiggles made Charlotte drivers feel warm and fuzzy inside, knowing that their government officials really care about them and their safety.

But wait a minute . . . the snow is not coming for three days, right?  And this is the South where it ALWAYS rains before it snows, so the rain will wash all the brine off the roads and into the sewers before it snows, right?

The forecast was accurate – it rained heavily on Tuesday, and then snowed big time on Wednesday.  The Charlotte streets were a real circus, complete with clowns and daredevil acts.  It didn’t appear to me that the huge expense for trucks and gas and drivers and weight-distribution passengers on overtime and the brine was a very good investment of taxpayers hard-earned money.

But that’s government work.  All that really matters is our government CARES.   Gotta love that warm and fuzzy feeling.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right SideWhen I’m tired and thinking cold
I hide in my music, forget the day
And dream of a girl I used to know
I closed my eyes and she slipped away
She slipped away

More Than A Feeling – Boston

Here’s a heapin’ helpin’ of guitar tone to warm up your day – Boston live, 2008

Government Employees: Join Us Conservatives!

US flagThis message is for government employees.

I know most of you are thoughtful people who care about your families and their futures.  You want our nation to be a better place for your children and grandchildren, and you want to be justifiably proud of our nation again.

As our economy has deteriorated, you have been increasingly cursed by conservatives.  You may feel isolated and threatened.  Since your paycheck comes from the taxpayers you can’t respond in public to the punches thrown your way.

It’s time for us to have a little talk – please stick with me to the end of this post.

I am a fiscal conservative.  No shame, no hesitancy, no reservations.  Our federal government, and many state and local governments, have been spending a lot more money than they have taken in for a long time, and this can not continue without devastating results.  I know you understand this basic fact of life.  At $17 trillion dollars and growing, our national debt is epic.

Still, there are grown adults who will not admit that we can not consume more than we produce.  I doubt that the “grasshopper and ant” story is still shared with elementary students, but its lesson about industry and thrift, and the importance of saving for the future is no less true today than it was when our great-grandparents learned it.

A few selfish Americans only want to take, and never give.  Aside from that, the only justification I have heard for government overspending is a misguided belief in Keynesian economics.  It has never worked in the long-term, and we are living the proof of that right now.  We are at the end of the line.

Liberals (and especially the corrupt mainstream media) continue to paint conservatives as stingy, cold-hearted, wild-eyed wing-nuts who don’t care about underdogs.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Most of us are, or were, underdogs.  Conservatives want a better world for all, and have learned from history what makes that happen.   We know that nothing in life worth having is free.

Because I am a critic of government overspending, and because most tax dollars go to salaries, I complain a lot – and loudly – about government employees.  Let me clarify that.

I don’t hate government employees.  The people, I mean.  You are American citizens who raise your families, support churches and charities, go to work and do your best.  Many of you are extraordinarily brave, intelligent, and productive.  Many of you are consummate patriots and put up with a lot of nonsense that most of us would not tolerate.

The problem is our government has outgrown our ability to control it.  There are too many government jobs, many involving work that the framers of our constitution never intended.   Some programs are obsolete, redundant, frivolous, or over-reaching.

Honestly, some government employees have little or nothing constructive to do – not because they are lazy, but because the “system” in which they operate has become dysfunctional.  Corruption in government has grown to epidemic proportions due to the high cost of getting elected, and the profit potential.  As a result, you government employees are forced to do things that you know are not right, and there are some bad actors in lead positions of your agencies and departments.  Also, some of you have been steered by corrupt union leadership that does not always operate in your best interests.

Lately I am hearing from more and more of you honest, concerned government employees who “get it”.  You understand the true state of the union and the extent of the danger, but you may feel you can’t stand up and speak out against the excesses and failures of your employer.

I’m here to wish you courage and strength, and invite you to the “Right Side”.  Please join us.  You can be a major contributor to restoring the fiscal integrity of our great nation.   Support your conservative friends and neighbors.  Teach your children.  Do what you can to cut waste and corruption.  It’s your home too, and your family’s future is much brighter in a free, strong and prosperous economy than in a corrupt, state-controlled society where the top priority is a perceived “fairness” that will ultimately require everyone to be equally miserable.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side

People, when things go wrong, as they sometimes will
And the road you travel, it stays all uphill
Let’s work together
Come on, come on, let’s work together
You know together we will stand
Every boy, girl, woman and man

Let’s Work Together – Canned Heat