Economy & Budget

Under Trump, the disruptors return to Washington (that’s a good thing)

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On June 30, 1982, President Reagan issued Executive Order 12369 to establish the President’s Private Sector Survey on Cost Control, which quickly became known as the Grace Commission after its chairman, businessman J. Peter Grace. The commission’s executive committee was made up of 161 business executives, a 50-member management office and 2,000 volunteers, whom Reagan tasked with working “like tireless bloodhounds” and not leaving “any stone unturned in your search to root out inefficiency.”

In his March 10, 1982 remarks to many of the individuals who would serve on the Grace Commission, the president said that he needed their expertise to:

“literally come in to the various departments and agencies of government and look at them as if you were considering a merger or takeover, and to see how modern business practices could be put to work to make government more efficient and effective. And if you find those things, I assure you, we’ll break down the doors in implementing them, bringing them about.”

In modern vernacular, the Grace Commission was going to help Reagan adopt policies that would disrupt how the government was doing business and make it work more effectively. On Jan. 12, 1984, the commission’s final report was presented to the president.

It contained 2,478 recommendations that would save $424.4 billion over three years after full implementation. Reagan took his pledge to implement the recommendations seriously and issued executive orders that helped save $100 billion. Total savings from Grace Commission recommendations, along with waste-cutting proposals suggested by Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), have helped save $1.5 trillion since 1984.

President-elect Donald Trump is bringing in the next group of private-sector disruptors, and this time the savings should be even greater. The president-elect and many nominees to his Cabinet have substantial experience managing large complex organizations; and there’s nothing bigger and more complicated than the federal government.

As the “CEO-in-chief,” Trump will undoubtedly set broad policies and give the cabinet latitude to carry out his directions. They will be tasked with making their agencies more efficient and effective by radically altering how Washington has done business for many years.

The Cabinet will find that many of the functions performed by the government are like the private sector; however, private businesses must perform efficiently and profitably, or they will not survive. Currently, there is no such accountability or consequence for wasting the taxpayers’ money.

{mosads}For example, federal agencies hire, but rarely fire employees; lend money to people who cannot otherwise afford to borrow and then fail to make sure it is all paid back; and maintain hundreds of incompatible computer and accounting systems that make it difficult to track how money is being spent.

A new commission is not necessary; the president-elect and his Cabinet have ample resources that were not available to Reagan. For example, six annual Government Accountability Office reports on duplicative and overlapping programs have been published since 2011. The highlights include uncovering 13 agencies that spent $3.1 billion on 209 different science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education programs, 173 of which overlap with at least one other program. More incredulously, the government, which cannot balance its own books, finances at least 15 major financial literacy programs.

Additional resources include Citizens Against Government Waste’s “2016 Prime Cuts,” which contains 618 recommendations that would save $644.1 billion in one year and $2.6 trillion over five years; the website; the Heritage Foundation’s reports on wasteful spending; the annual Congressional Budget Office “Options for Reducing the Deficit”; and reports such as Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R-Ariz.) “Wastebook,” Sen. James Lankford’s (R-Okla.) “Federal Fumbles” and the Republican Study Committee budget.

While Trump will implement every proposal he can by executive order, they can only go so far. He will need to convince members of Congress to pass enabling legislation for other reforms, many of which have been resisted on both sides of the aisle for many years.

The 2016 elections revealed long-simmering and widespread public dissatisfaction with the status quo in Washington. Taxpayers want their elected leaders to be bold and courageous, not timid and weak.

The disruptors are coming back to Washington. They can provide President-elect Trump with the recommendations he needs to cut red tape, terminate mismanagement, and lower the deficit and debt, freeing up resources for the private sector to create jobs and helping to secure a prosperous future for our children and grandchildren.

Thomas A. Schatz is president of Citizens Against Government Waste, a private, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization representing more than 1 million members and supporters nationwide.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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