- - Monday, November 13, 2017

Reorganization isn’t easy. That’s why, when Initech — the IT company featured in the 1999 comedy “Office Space” — needed to cut waste and inefficiency, it called in outside experts.

Congress should take a lesson from Initech and create an independent commission to help reorganize the federal government — something lawmakers from both parties agree needs to be done but can’t seem to bring themselves to do.

Decades of government expansion have created a plethora of federal departments, agencies, bureaus and offices. Many programs are duplicative. Waste and inefficiency plague virtually all areas of operation.

Take the government’s role in helping feed the hungry. Washington runs more than a dozen different nutrition-related programs across multiple agencies. The largest of these programs — food stamps — isn’t even run by the nation’s main welfare provider, the Department of Health and Human Services. Instead, it’s housed within the Department of Agriculture. Irrational allocations of authority make it hard to provide integrated services.

Similarly, the Veterans Administration operates over 40 different offices — 14 of which deal with health issues. Instead of connecting veterans with the experts and services they need, this bureaucratic maze prevents veterans from accessing the services they need.

And spreading 47 different federal job-training programs across nine different agencies does not make it easy for unemployed workers to know where to go for assistance.

The proliferation of programs needlessly drives up costs. Each office or bureau requires its own facilities, office equipment and administrative staff.

Of course, that also makes it harder to reorganize. Removing inefficiency and waste ruffles the feathers of federal workers and constituents who benefit from the government’s largesse and disorder.

And government reorganization endangers more than just featherbedding and excessive spending. It also threatens to reduce power and influence — two things both politicians and government bureaucrats are loathe to relinquish. Even when consolidating offices or transferring authority from one committee’s jurisdiction to another makes complete sense, politicians and bureaucrats will often decide that protecting their “turf” is more important than making government more efficient.

That attitude produces organizational outcomes that are truly bizarre. Exhibit A: the lines of jurisdiction drawn between the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. The FDA inspects fish, except for catfish, which fall under the purview of the USDA. The FDA inspects fresh eggs; the USDA inspects liquid, frozen and dehydrated eggs. The FDA inspects closed-faced sandwiches, while the USDA inspects open-faced sandwiches.

Rationalizing these divisions of labor should be a no-brainer, but it would mean shifting jobs and resources — and that would send change-averse bureaucrats and businesses a-knocking on lawmakers’ doors. That’s why Congress should consider creating an independent commission to take on the tough work of government reorganization.

The commission’s assignment: to draw up a comprehensive proposal for reorganizing the federal government in ways that would (1) cut waste and duplication; (2) establish logical lines of jurisdiction; (3) limit the government’s role to its constitutional responsibilities; (4) achieve long-term savings for taxpayers; and (5) streamline the bureaucracy.

The entire proposal would then go before Congress for an up-or-down vote — no modifications allowed. This makes reorganization a much easier call for lawmakers. Instead of having to take ownership over each individual recommendation made by the commission, they have to decide only whether the package overall will make for a better, more efficient government than what we have now.

A similar approach — the BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) process — has proved quite successful in closing outdated and unnecessary military facilities and consolidating operations for improved efficiency.

By extending the BRAC approach to all of government, lawmakers could turn their bipartisan desire for a better, more efficient government into reality.

Rachel Greszler is a research fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies.


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