There may be a silver lining of sorts to our federal government’s inability to effectively govern, an ineptitude that led to meat cleaver budget cuts early this calendar year that continue into the current budget year that started Oct. 1.
The partial government shutdown targeted nonessential personnel and operations, because certain things — rightly so — are essential. Where would we be without air traffic controllers and our U.S. armed forces? How about our national security apparatus? We may argue about the scope of our national security activities in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency, but do any of us really question the need for at least some level of national security activity?
What’s interesting to me is what qualified as nonessential. Take, for example, access to certain U.S. government data.
Online access to U.S. Census Bureau data was offline. People looking for census data were greeted by this missive: “Due to the lapse in government funding, census.gov sites, services, and all online survey collection requests will be unavailable until further notice.”
Really? Access to the data online is dependent on government funding? I can understand not being able to update information, or to provide any type of direct or even indirect interaction, or to troubleshoot a specific site should problems develop, but to shut down access to static information seems, well, spiteful.
It has a feel that screams, “Look at me! I’m essential!”
At its core, though, I think the partial government shutdown should give us all something to think about, both on the political left and the right – and those moderates in the middle as well.
Specifically, if these are nonessential personnel and operations – and our own government has identified them as such – why are they, in fact, government personnel and operations? Can’t they be outsourced, so private companies take the lead on these “nonessential” functions, under government oversight? Do we have to have government workers, drawing taxpayer-funded paychecks and eligible for taxpayer-backed benefits, fill all of these roles, or does it make better sense from a financial standpoint to shift these services to the private sector?
This week’s debate over whether or not to increase the federal government’s debt limit beyond the current $16.7 billion illustrates my point. We have a federal debt of nearly $17 billion. One unintended consequence of our government’s failure two years ago to reach a budget compromise – the sequester – cut deeply into the amount we’re adding each year to our overall debt, which for a number of years after the Great Recession was growing by $1 trillion a year.
To me it makes little difference whether the policies of the George W. Bush presidency or the policies of the Barack Obama presidency are to blame, the fact remains that we have a debt that, from a layman’s standpoint, is difficult to fathom. It’s taken us decades to get here, and will likely take decades to get things in check.
One way to do that is to evaluate what our government does, and how it does it. There may be ways to provide comparable services at reduced cost, thereby contributing to the solution – assuming you believe a solution is necessary, which I do.
Our federal government contracts for a great many services already. Perhaps the partial government shutdown points out some additional opportunities to make our government more financially viable (read “to save taxpayers money”) while ensuring that the services provided remain available to the American public.
It’s just a thought.
Reach Managing Editor Glen Faison at 427-6925 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GlenFaison.