Community Conservatism – Government Accountability and Service
Restoring Faith in Public Institutions
One effect of the Obama administration that many conservatives think is, somehow, positive, has been the massive deterioration in public trust in government. Liberty-minded folks have variously argued that the millennial generation has no faith at all in government and that this makes them budding allies against liberalism. We would argue that millennial voters now attempting to enter the middle class all seem to want badly to believe that government can work and that Democrats are better at garnering their votes by promising that the latest wave will be the ones to restore that trust. We believe that being conservative is not the same as being anti-government, and that we need to seize upon this opportunity to convince a frustrated generation of Americans that conservatives can govern, that government can be a positive force if properly restrained, and that we can make the system work. Accountability and an end to cronyism are the keys.
A) Abolish Federal Employee Unions
Franklin D. Roosevelt – the granddaddy of all classical US progressives – believed that it was wrong to allow federal employees to unionize, because it represented a fundamental conflict of interest when they bargain with the same people for their benefits that they use union funds to elect. One of the major sources of “good-pole-boys” cronyism in Washington is the persistent political power of federal employee unions. Many of the same people lobbying Congress to enact the Affordable Care Act, for example, were members of the union for IRS employees. Federal employees should not be shielded from the realities of the policies enacted by Washington, and they should not have collective power to exert over policies that they must enforce, by which they themselves do not live.
B) Pass the ARM Act
Don’t go looking for that acronym – I invented it (sounds strong and impressive, right?). The Annual Reporting Mandate law would require all federal agencies granted budgetary allowances to report precisely how those funds were spent to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and would task Congress with affirming that those funds were properly disbursed in the service of the mandate of the agencies, issuing refund requirements when agency spending is not deemed appropriate. Simple, albeit time consuming, this annual review of the unelected fourth branch of government would force transparency and keep federal agencies leaner and less prone to fraud and abuse (this should include the Federal Reserve).
C) Pass ‘Unrevolve’ Legislation
No one is surprised, anymore, when someone from a government agency is fired for malfeasance of incompetence, latches on with a lobby firm, and returns a few years later, under a new administration. No one is alarmed when members of Congress lose political races and are immediately absorbed by lobbies, PACs and Wall Street, only to return to politics shortly thereafter in a new state. This phenomenon was given the term of ‘revolving door’ and ensures that no one is ever truly held accountable when they behave as political operatives within the system, breaking rules to achieve political ends, even if they are caught. Congress should act to bar people who have been by PACs, lobbying firms or other specifically politically organizations from serving as elected officials or as appointees in government agencies. The same bill should provide for the enactment of new, harsher penalties, the revocation of pensions and the lifetime barring of any government employee implicated in wrongdoing or incompetence while in service. It’s not clear that we can ever completely stop the crony wheels from spinning, but we can make it much more difficult for political operatives to avoid accountability.
D) Codify The Ryan Plan for Better Service
We’ll talk much more about containing the cost of our unfunded entitlement liabilities and securing those benefits for future generations in a later installment, but while we’re on the subject of government accountability, one of the main reasons that even the poor who are being theoretically most served by the safety net have lost faith in government is that customer service and accountability in government flat out sucks. As someone who is legally blind, I have had the misfortune to require access to the Social Security Goliath, and let me tell you – the way in which the government disseminates benefits, administers mistakes, keeps tabs on benefit recipients, and attempts to improve their standards of living is hopefully out of date, painfully bureaucratic, inaccessible and, frequently, just plain dehumanizing.
But you don’t have to be receiving SSI or retirement assistance or Medicare or veteran’s benefits to know how appallingly depressing government services are. Just take a look around your local DMV office the next time you’re updating your state ID or driver’s license. What you’ll see in any government office from the IRS to the DMV to the SSA is a collection of overworked, miserable employees using hilariously out of date computer systems, handling citizens as though they were cattle, and generally taking their frustrations out on people who need their help. It’s a bleak landscape filled with despair and dependency and no one enjoys it – not even those who claim to be perfectly happy to stay on welfare (and yes, they do exist). If conservatives would like to shed the unfair label of uncaring toward the poor, they should take steps to improve customer service while reducing the cost of that service and saving the taxpayers money. Fortunately, Paul Ryan has devoted considerable ink to discussing how he would accomplish this. The basic tenets of his plan go as follows:
• Nuke the federal workers unions (as already discussed) and allow federal and state agencies to fire employees who do not work with compassion and manners toward their charges.
• Instead of funding (at last count) 86 separate federal anti-poverty programs, many of which overlap in their missions, creating enormous redundancy and waste, while confusing the heck out of the public, block grant federal budget dollars to the states and establish achievement-based standards in the provision of such programs (in other words, judge the merit of state-run anti-poverty, affordable housing, healthcare, preventive care, and nutrition programs by how well they work, rather than by the appeal of their stated mandates), to be run by the states and scored by the Congressional Budget Office. Let the states have considerable latitude to experiment on needs-based programs, but revoke programs that fail to improve outcomes or that get horrible customer service ratings. This review is to be conducted annually.
• Rather than sending each citizen to many different offices to manage his or her benefits, establish a personal management system in which all people seeking any type of benefit consult by appointment with one social worker who oversees all of their needs – in this way, re-humanize the process and establish a relationship between the citizen in need and the resources at his or her disposal, while making interacting with the state more efficient and more frictionless for the customer. Each social worker can probably handle hundreds of recipients at a time without an overworked schedule, and without life-sucking endless waits in lines to be seen by a stressed-out bureaucrat who doesn’t know anything about your needs. This managed model has proven to be more cost-effective in private sector human resource management as well.
• Give civic non-profits and religious organizations access – don’t limit petitions for participation in new state anti-poverty programs to government bureaucrats. In this way, empower (through the provision of federal grants) the mediating “civic society” to do good works that can be tracked by the government and good ideas duplicated when they prove effective. Turn the generosity and goodwill of the people into a giant engine of creativity that stands a better chance of rescuing the poor.
This basic template should be honed into policy that can stand as a strong platform for Republicans running for office in 2016 and unite social conservatives with the poor and disaffected that they wish to help, broadening the potential voter base for the Republican Party through improved dialogue.
Final Note: I considered discussing the possibility of pushing a Constitutional amendment that would enact term limits for Congressmen, Senators and Federal Judges, since this is an idea that is growing increasingly popular as anti-incumbent sentiments rise nationally, but I believe that is a concept that has strong plusses AND strong minuses and should be more carefully considered at the state level before any action is taken.