Editorial: No Wire Hangers

Simply cutting people or budgets is not the answer to more-efficient government

There is nothing wrong with wanting to reform government, streamline it and eliminate whatever waste, fraud and abuse can be weeded out.

Applying fresh eyes to the task is OK, too.

So President Donald Trump’s executive order last week calling on the Office of Management and Budget director to work with the heads of executive branch agencies, including independent agencies, to try and figure out where there is duplication with states and localities, or with other agencies, is as good as far as it goes — but only if it does not go too far.

In other words, what does not make sense is using reorganization as a blunt instrument, or taking the “eliminate two regulations for one added” type of approach to people and programs without, as the Ghost of Christmas Present said about the surplus population, looking at who they are and where they are.

Simply cutting people or budgets may not be the answer to more-efficient government. It could be that the FCC has the right number of people, but that government has too many lawyers and not enough economists or engineers.

Maybe there are ways to tap expertise when needed rather than having it always be on staff and on the retirement plan.

The rest of the world is moving, and not so slowly, toward a more on-demand work force. And as the American Federation of Government Employees was telling anyone who would listen last week, a more finessed look at staffing would consider outside contractors and the $450 billion spent on them yearly.

Which brings us to the issue of sacred cows: There shouldn’t be any. Every dollar spent on waste, fraud or abuse is a dollar too many, and that includes what’s spent on the Defense Department. And money for the arts or public media should not be considered expendable out of hand—the president’s new budget zeros out money for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, for example, which would be a mistake.

Subtlety is not this administration’s strong suit; neither is finesse. But wildly swinging an ax is a dangerous way to try to make Washington great again.