Government Must Get Back to Basics
The hallmark of a successful organization is focus. Focus drives an organization to not stray far from its original intent. Focus drives an organization to do what's best in the long term. Focus removes the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that can derail an organization.
Government, it seems, is lacking in focus. Elected officials, eager to have a big accomplishment to take home on the next election day, are always trying to come up with the Next Big Thing™. It could be a new program. It could be an expanded program. It could be a tax cut, a change in the law, or effective grandstanding. The problem is that none of these tasks exhibits focus.
In the quest to be all things to all voters, government isn't sure what it's supposed to do anymore. I don't think voters are sure either. In the quest to solve the societal issue of poverty, we now have a federal government on-track to have the entire federal budget consumed by Social Security and Medicare alone by 2040. This says nothing of the countless other social programs such as TANF, HUD, and Medicaid that consume even more money without any effect on poverty. These programs have mushroomed into a plethora of entitlements for almost any cause imaginable.
This aimless growth away from the few limited powers granted to it isn't just isolated to federal government. States are always trying to get more of the federal dollars and many spend like mad on a lot of the same types of programs. This has left both states and the feds as jacks of all trades, masters of none.
The federal government is leaving states to fend for themselves on renovating expensive road construction projects, some of which were completed only 25 years ago. States cannot build roads in a timely fashion, resorting to tax hikes and "public-private partnerships" to absolve themselves of the responsibility. Many states cannot maintain a full staff of public safety officers, and courts are backlogged to the point where it can take months or years to have a hearing. Coming to this country legally takes years and some luck in a lottery, and we can't even manage to keep the less scrupulous from walking across the border in broad daylight.
Meanwhile, a supposedly "small government" Congress passed a huge expansion of social programs, failed to do more than talk about immigration policy, and clogged both transportation and energy bills with pork-barrel earmarks. Closer to home, our own legislature refuses to relinquish control of transportation planning to local authorities, can't get its job done without several special session per year, and spends more time on special interest bills from Sen. Buttars than on addressing our meteoric growth. There's so much that government is expected to now do that there's little hope of it ever getting done.
What has to happen is that government needs to do what any successful organization does: start divesting itself of responsibilities and focus on its core responsibilities. Our state must devolve social programs back to counties, cities, and private citizens to concentrate on transportation planning, education policy, and public safety.
I fear we might be to a point of impossibility with such a reduction in the role of government. Special interests will howl that [insert pet project here] costs so little and is absolutely vital to public policy yadda, yadda, yadda. Progressives aren't willing to admit that 40 years of the "War on Poverty" started by LBJ hasn't budged the percentage of people below the poverty line even 1/4% and is a complete failure at accomplishing its goals. Conservatives aren't willing to branch away from social issues *cough*intelligent design*cough*gay-straight alliances*cough* for a few election cycles to address questions about critical infrastructure.
We're gridlocked between groups too stubborn about their own programs and bills to realize that good government is always in style. Trimming state spending is always popular. Building roads is always popular. Reducing logjams in the legal system is always popular. If the state stopped dealing with all of these fringe issues, we might even be able to close a legislative session early once in a while.
If we continue to fail to get back to some basic responsibilities of government, we're going to run head-long into financial ruin, transportation gridlock, and an ineffectual legal system. Let's hope some courageous individuals on both sides of the aisle will step forward to cut back to the essentials and get things back on track.