Fixing Federal Fumbles Forever

December 3, 2015
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Congratulations to Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma for his new report “Federal Fumbles.” The senator and his staff identify 100 screw-ups in federal programs and agencies, and propose some modest fixes.

I like the report because it will help educate the public in a fun way about the vast size and scope of the federal government. It will also help to counterbalance the nonstop propaganda coming from federal agencies about what an awesome job they are doing.

I don’t like the report because the reform proposals are too small. Lankford opens his report noting that out-of-control federal activism has loaded us with $19 trillion of debt, and is burying us under more than 3,500 new regulations a year. Yet most of his proposals would not put much of a dent in the problem. He identifies real waste in programs and agencies, but often doesn’t draw the logical conclusion that the waste is systematic and the whole program or agency ought to be repealed.

About half of the senator’s “fumbles” relate to activities that should be state, local, or private, and not federal at all. But Lankford usually just calls for administrative fixes to the problems, not a full devolution or privatization to fully end the federal fumbling. As the report notes, the government fumbles with school lunches, public housing, and Amtrak, but we will only begin to solve our $19 trillion debt problem when members of Congress start calling for full repeal of such programs.

That said, the report identifies some very important policy issues that the public needs to be aware of. For example, Lankford rightly criticizes a 377-page HUD regulation proposed in 2015 that would require communities across America to submit detailed plans to the federal government about how they will address segregation. The regulation is one of many ways that the federal government— through numerous agencies—is increasingly micromanaging local planning and zoning. It’s a dangerous trend that will squelch diversity, community, and local control in the nation.

So give Lankford’s report a read. He deserves credit for focusing his time and energies on the project and identifying a lot of waste, especially since many of his colleagues are in denial about the overspending problem.

But keep in mind that many of the programs and agencies discussed in Lankford’s report ought to be completely repealed. If they aren’t, the government is just going to keep on fumbling year after year, and the debt is going to keep piling up.    

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