- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Sen. John Kerry is sounding more like Al Gore all the time. Mr. Kerry now promises to “streamline agencies” to make the federal government “smaller and smarter.”

Mr. Gore said exactly the same thing in the 2000 campaign. “I’m for smaller, smarter government,” Gore declared, and “for eight years I have [been] running the streamlining program called Reinventing Government.”

But the truth is the bureaucratic beast Al Gore turned over to George Bush was hulking, untamed, huge and dumb.

Across government in the 1990s, incompetence was gladly suffered. Failure was tolerated. Million-dollar programs that accomplished nothing were left in place. The 96,000 “poor performing” bureaucrats sitting at their desks were rarely removed. The same with the fringe-toed lizard and creosote bush—endangered species in the desert that Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) softheads in Washington wouldn’t let Border Patrol agents drive over in hot pursuit of criminals.

Out of 8 million illegal aliens in the United States, the only one the INS apparently could find was 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez.

Amtrak was losing hundreds of dollars each time a passenger stepped aboard some of its trains. It was so bad that Office of Management and Budget (OMB) calculated “it would literally be cheaper for Amtrak to buy each passenger a plane ticket to the next destination.” I’d like a window seat, please.

The Department of Defense (DOD) spent $41 million on computers to keep track of the military’s ammunition, and ended up eight years later without a system that could even count one bullet. The INS’s $88 million computers couldn’t keep track of foreign students in the United States on expired student visas.

At least the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) remained vigilant, enforcing its regulations for hams. One rule barred terms such as “farm” or “country” from being used on labels for hams unless they were actually prepared “on the farm or in the country.”

Agencies made the dumbest decisions. HUD spent $860,000 to teach public-housing tenants how to reduce stress by wearing feel-good colors like apricot. The National Institute of Mental Health paid $187,000 to study the behavioral development of the Norway rat.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) gave taxpayers wrong answers 81 percent of the time when they walked into IRS help centers around the country.

It absolutely was not a smaller and smarter government on Inauguration Day 2001.

But in one term, President Bush has reformed the bureaucracy more dramatically and fundamentally than any other president in history.

m Mr. Bush took a jackhammer to the most dysfunctional agency in government — the INS — abolished it, broke it into working pieces, put it in a new Cabinet department, and sent its flag to the Smithsonian.

m Mr. Bush requires agency managers to demonstrate to him that their programs are producing results. Performance is demanded. Accountability for failure is imposed. In 2004, Mr. Bush identified 65 programs whose existence could no longer be justified. Their termination will save taxpayers $4.9 billion.

m For the first time in history, the salaries and raises of the government’s nearly 77,000 top executives and managers will now be linked to their performance. Their bureaus, offices and programs will be continuously evaluated for results. No more fat automatic pay raises go to managers who can’t manage.

m When he created the new Department of Homeland Security, Mr. Bush prevailed in linking the pay of all 180,000 agency employees to their performance. At Border Patrol stations and airports around the country, the salaries and raises of federal employees will be based on how well they do their jobs. So, from top management to airport screener, it’s merit that talks. No more free steaks for anybody.

m Mr. Bush has also reshaped Washington by reducing the bloat that has slowed agencies for decades. He requires each agency “identify how it will reduce the number of managers, reduce the number of organizational layers, reduce the time it takes to make decisions, and increase the number of employees who provide services to citizens.” At the Department of Health and Human Services alone, 700 administrative positions have been eliminated, saving $50 million. Other agencies are stripping away management layers that have existed for a century. At the Social Security Administration, hundreds of administrative staff are being redeployed to customer service jobs to directly help beneficiaries.

m Mr. Bush instituted a report card grading system where an agency’s performance is actually graded by OMB. OMB auditors review agencies’ performance and assign the grades publicly. It forces agencies to work as hard as students who understand an “F” on their report card will get their allowance cut. And Mr. Bush has cut the funding of 64 programs in 2004 that did not pass.

George Bush has delivered historic reform of government. He is fearlessly bearding the lion that his opponents only fight with empty platitudes.

James A. Albert is the Leland Stanford Forrest Outstanding Professor of Law, Drake University Law School, and chairman of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.

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