Newsletter Sep 09, 2010
Common Sense Must Prevail
A young boy raised his hand at my town hall in Tahlequah last Thursday to ask a question that every member of Congress should be asking themselves. I do not recall his exact wording, but it went something like this: “When Congress passes a bill that starts a new program, why couldn’t you make it where duplicative programs automatically go away?”
That’s a great question and precisely the kind of common sense that is sorely lacking in Washington, D.C.
The truth is that most Members of Congress would rather create a new program to show they care than to do the hard work of identifying existing programs, measuring their effectiveness, and holding them accountable.
That is how we ended up with 105 separate federal programs to encourage students to go into science, technology math and engineering (STEM) fields, how we ended up with at least 72 food assistance programs spread across multiple agencies, and nearly 30 separate job training programs (10 outside the Department of Labor).
As I evaluate all of the bills that come through Congress each week designed to create new programs, it has become clear to me that federal programs, sometimes hundreds of federal programs, already exist for the express purpose of the new bills. Yet, surprisingly, Congress has never developed a comprehensive database of all federal programs with overlapping missions and goals. In fact, when I asked Congress’ chief auditor, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for such a list, they told me it was an impossible task.
That is until now.
Earlier this year, after years of frustration, I pushed through an amendment (now law) that will force the GAO to annually produce this list. Starting next year, representatives and voters will finally have a consistent tool that has already identified duplication and overlap across the federal government.
That’s one less excuse the politicians will have for allowing such extensive waste and duplication to persist.
It also gets us that much closer to the common sense expressed by the young man in Tahlequah. Congress should routinely get rid of existing programs before creating new ones for the same purpose, and now we will have one more tool to stop the madness.
Part of restoring discipline is Washington will require restoring common sense. In November, I am very hopeful that common sense has a fighting chance.
Tom A. Coburn, MD
Recent reports by the Treasury Department indicate that our total debt will rise to 93 percent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Economists predict that debt above 90 percent of GDP results in a full one percent loss in economic growth, and prevents the creation of up to nearly one million jobs.