White House Effort to Create a “Predatory Bureau”?

July 29, 2005

Economist Milton Friedman famously argued that government programs suffer from a “tyranny of the status quo“. When new programs are first proposed, there is vigorous debate about their costs and benefits. But once they are enacted, debate largely ceases, and programs develop constituencies that fight to maintain and expand them.

Over time the federal budget ends up cluttered with dead wood—and tax burdens continually ratchet upward.

However, a new White House effort to create a “sunset commission” charged with examining and eliminating wasteful and outmoded federal programs may go a long way toward slowing the process. From Wednesday’s Baltimore Sun:

Government programs are the only sign of eternal life on Earth. Once they are created, they often attract large constituencies that are ready to complain loudly about their “essential” services should anyone try to reduce their funding or, worse, end them altogether…

The Bush administration is asking Congress to pass the Government Reorganization and Program Performance Improvement Act of 2005. If approved, the legislation would create two agencies that would place the interest of taxpayers before those of the politicians.

The Sunset Commission would review the effectiveness of each federal program. Programs and agencies would automatically cease unless Congress took specific action to continue them. The Results Commission would work to uncover duplication of services in government programs, of which there are many.

The need for these commissions should be evident when one considers that about one-third of the fiscal 2005 discretionary budget is unauthorized. Comprehensive reviews of federal spending might save taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.

Federal spending is out of control. It must be properly monitored by an entity that places the interests of those who earn the money over those who didn’t earn it and can spend it with little accountability.

If taxpayers want to keep more of the money they earn, they must also work to become less dependent on a government check. We look to government too often and to ourselves not enough. When that dynamic reverses, our need of government will be reflected in less government. That will benefit the economy and the government more than additional revenue. (Full op-ed here.)

The idea of creating a “predatory bureau” to correct biases toward inefficiency in democratic political systems isn’t a new idea. Economists John Baden and Rodney Fort proposed the idea decades ago. (For their original article, see “The Federal Treasury as a Common-Pool Resource: The Predatory Bureaucracy as a Management Tool,” in Managing the Commons).

Read the full text of the White House proposed bill here (PDF). Read another useful summary of the proposal here.


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