Bureaucracy / Mismanagement
Paul Light of Brookings and NYU is a top expert on the federal bureaucracy. He has a new study on federal government failures over the 2001 to 2014 period.
The technical arguments against the Export-Import Bank are provided in this excellent summary by Veronique de Rugy. However, one argument against Ex-Im and other business subsidies is not stressed enough in policy debates: subsidies weaken the businesses that receive them.
Congress faces gridlock on many issues until after the November elections, but a transportation bill is still high on the agenda, because the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) will soon run out of money after years of elevated spending. Congress will probably put a bandage on the HTF to get it through this year, but eventually it will have to choose between tax increases and spending cuts.
Since the 1960s, the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) has provided a list of all federal subsidy programs. That includes subsidies to individuals, businesses, nonprofit groups, and state and local governments. The CFDA includes subsidies for farmers, retirees, school lunches, rural utilities, the energy industry, rental housing, public broadcasting, job training, foreign aid, urban transit, and much more.
Perhaps the most suspicious thing about the disappearance of Lois Lerner’s emails is that the IRS is not a small business operation that cannot afford high-quality computer, email, and backup systems. It is a huge modern bureaucracy that has computer technology at the core of its operations. The IRS IT budget in 2014 is a massive $2.4 billion (page 149 here).
One of the policy fissures in the Republican Party is over business subsides, and the current debate about the Export-Import Bank illustrates the conflict. The Ex-Im Bank is one of many corporate welfare or crony capitalist programs that litter the federal budget. The Bank’s authorization runs out in September, and so Congress must act if it wants to extend the operations of this business subsidy machine.
The programs, regulations, and laws that define most federal activities are so numerous and complex that it strangles effective governance. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is no exception. During the Hurricane Katrina disaster, DHS officials were in a fog of confusion, overwhelmed by events and all the complicated emergency rules and procedures.
We’ve learned about what a huge and dysfunctional agency Veterans Affairs is in recent weeks. I had not realized that the agency added 100,000 workers in just the past seven years.
After my blogpost yesterday about Department of Veterans Affairs spending, my research assistant Nick created the chart below on the number of VA employees. Wow, you don’t often see bureaucracies expand that rapidly! A 56 percent increase in just 13 years, from 219,000 to 341,000 employees. The VA has 100,000 new employees just since 2006.
The news is shocking: Patients dying on the waiting list for government-provided healthcare. But this is not a report from Canada or the British National Health Service. It’s right here in America, in the health system administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.