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Jewish World Review Jan. 14, 2000 / 7 Shevat, 5760

Cal Thomas

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How Dubyah will win --
IF GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH wants to improve his chances of being elected president, he should begin talking not just about reducing our taxes but putting big government on a diet.

Democrats have mostly prevailed on the tax-cut issue when they cast it as one of "fairness'' and speak of cuts benefiting "the rich.'' Let's see how well they can defend big-government bureaucracy that wastes our money.

Why are there multiple layers of bureaucracy required to administer the food-stamp program, with employees earning between $30,000 and $150,000, while food-stamp recipients get only about $150 a month? That's what Peter Sperry of the Heritage Foundation -- who has just finished an analysis of the 2000 federal budget -- wants to know.

Bush could start asking questions of voters who are paying for this and a lot more. Are people aware that the current system of departments, bureaus, agencies and offices contributed marginally to the public good between 1860 and 1950 -- and began to show signs of obsolescence by the end of World War II?

Among the many agencies that have outlived their purposes is the Department of Agriculture. The USDA was created in 1862 when more than 80 percent of all American families earned their living from the land. Today, only about 1 percent (3 million people) fits that profile. Most of USDA's departments could be eliminated and the relevant ones transferred to the Department of the Interior.

The Rural Utilities Service (RUS) wired rural America with telephones and electricity. The RUS costs $141 million in the new budget, though the number of "rural'' households continues to decline.

Congress established the Small Business Administration (SBA) in 1953 to help new businesses get started after World War II. Today the availability of private-venture capital, which comes mainly from initial public offerings, has far outpaced the need for government money to help establish new businesses and is fast making the SBA obsolete.

Power Marketing Administrations (PMA) are government-owned utilities that borrow money from the Treasury at below-market interest rates, taking as long as 50 years to pay it back. PMAs subsidize their customers at a cost to taxpayers of $262 million this year. Congress should privatize the PMAs. The General Accounting Office says "privatization would benefit both consumers and the electric industry.''

Evidence of bad management -- contributing to rising cost and sapping efficiency -- abound. The federal education bureaucracy runs more than 788 programs in 40 different agencies at an annual cost of nearly $100 billion. An estimated 30 cents of every federal education dollar is lost in overhead and never reaches the classroom (another reason why proposals to spend more money on education won't improve performance).

Programs to address problems associated with juveniles stretch over 10 departments, three independent agencies, one federal commission, one presidential council and one quasi-official agency. Separately, they administer 131 juvenile programs and cost $4 billion annually.

Taxpayers spend $20 billion a year on 15 different federal agencies for job training. Worse, the GAO reports that most federal agencies cannot determine the effectiveness of their programs.

There are 342 economic-development programs managed by 13 agencies with little or no coordination.

At least 70 programs across 57 different departments and agencies receive more than $16 billion a year to fight illegal drug use. Among the most blatant examples of government waste and mismanagement are the 19 drug "intelligence centers''dispersed among 10 departments. Much of the information generated by these centers is "off limits'' to other agencies.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the USDA are among 16 different agencies involved with food safety.

Add to bloated bureaucracy the incidents of fraud, waste and abuse ($14,000 was set aside to convert the charcoal grill at the Air Force Academy's Otis House to natural gas, according to the Air Force Auditing Agency), and we have what ought to be a defining political issue for the Bush campaign.

If the debate about taxes could also focus on reducing government's need of money, Democrats would find themselves having to defend the insatiable monster that eats our tax dollars.

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