- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 2004

In his Halifax, Nova Scotia, speech last week, President Bush returned to his “reformer with results” 2000 campaign theme. While saying “multilateral organizations can do great good in the world,” he added, “the success of multilateralism is measured not merely by following a process, but by achieving results.”

The president chided the United Nations for its tendency to focus on “endless debate” instead of the need for collective security.

Too many engaged in diplomacy, including many in the State Department, believe process is more important than product. Under this formula, dialogue is too often preferred over decisiveness. By making results a priority, the president is attempting to shift the focus from means to ends. That would be a welcome change in diplomatic thinking. The same formula should also be used with domestic considerations, like the size and cost of government.

Suppose results became paramount in education. In New York City, a court-appointed panel wants an additional $5.6 billion spent annually on that city’s failed school system. The panel also wants $9.2 billion for facilities, such as new classrooms, laboratories and libraries, to reduce overcrowding and create smaller classes. About $11,000 per student is already being spent, and the kids are not learning. Why ask for more money when what is spent now produces no results?

Can’t Congress be held to the same results standard proposed by the president in international affairs? The recently passed omnibus spending bill includes some 11,000 pork-barrel projects, according to the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste (cagw.org). Accountability is nonexistent in the bill because many spending provisions have no author linked to them, allowing those misspending members to escape responsibility. Why shouldn’t we require demonstrated need and results before Congress is allowed to waste our money?

Last April, Congress rejected a bill to revive caps on appropriations and pay-as-you-go budget rules. Because they wanted to get home for Thanksgiving, Congress suspended the rule requiring three days of deliberation before voting on the omnibus spending measure. These aren’t the results the Republican Party promised, but they are the results members believe help keep them in office. Never mind the $413 billion deficit or the new record-high debt ceiling. Congress again has managed to take care of itself, raising its own pay through a “cost of living adjustment” that will increase members’ current $158,100 salary by $4,000 next year.

Taxpayers should demand results from those entrusted with our money, but the president must lead the way. In his first term, he vetoed not one spending bill. He should begin asking some questions: Why do we need so many Cabinet and sub-Cabinet agencies? Why does government always grow, no matter which party controls it? Any agency that fails to produce results at a reasonable price should be eliminated and the savings applied to the deficit or refunded to the taxpayers.

If it can be shown (and it has) that spending and academic achievement are not related, get rid of the unnecessary Education Department, as Ronald Reagan attempted and Congress wouldn’t allow. We don’t need an Energy Department, or a lot of other departments and agencies. Each should be required to justify its existence and cost.

In a May 5, 1984, radio address, President Reagan appealed for reducing waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement in government. He had appointed the Grace Commission to expose agencies and spending that were not producing results. He correctly noted government problems “were permitted to grow and spread like an unchecked cancer, plundering your pocketbooks and hindering government’s ability to provide essential public services in an efficient and timely manner.”

Mr. Reagan and the Grace Commission eliminated a few things, but, like some cancers, big government made a comeback. Waste, fraud and abuse are worse now than in 1984.

President Bush could revisit the problem, but he must begin with his own party, which is now in charge of the misspending. “A reformer with results” helped get him elected in 2000. It could contribute to his legacy, especially if he produces results.

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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