On March 3, we celebrate the anniversary of Bill Clinton’s National Partnership for Reinventing Government. For those of you who were not paying attention to his 1993 speech, he told the American people that, “Our goal is to make the entire federal government less expensive and more efficient, and to change the culture of our national bureaucracy away from complacency and entitlement toward initiative and empowerment. We intend to redesign, to reinvent, the entire national government.”

Has anyone noticed the redesign and reinvention of our national government? Testimonials about its improved efficiency, reduced cost and an otherwise improved bureaucracy seem notable for their absence. Even though Al Gore was given supervisory powers over the reinvention scheme, nothing much was heard about his achievements during his campaign for the presidency.

It appears that even President Barack Obama overlooked any transformation that Clinton and Gore may have engineered. In his 2011 State of the Union address, Obama acknowledged that wasteful, inconsequential government was a problem and did not (amazingly) blame the problems on George W. Bush. He urged Congress to give the people a government that’s “more competent and efficient” because, “We can’t win the future with the government of the past.” That is, with a government whose last major reorganization took place during the Dark Ages before color TV. Our president went on to promise Congress that his administration would develop proposals to “merge, consolidate and reinvigorate the entire national government.”

The boldest and most visionary reorganization proposed in the last four years, according William Voegeli, senior editor of the Claremont Review of Books, was a plan to transfer the office of the U.S. trade representative from the executive office of the president to the Department of Commerce. Congress, however, wasn’t interested, and the president did not pursue the matter.

Perhaps someone will come forward to remind me about a merger, consolidation or reinvigoration I’m overlooking. If so, I will cite any corrections in my next column. In the absence of contrary evidence, however, we must conclude that the government we have in 2015 remains the government we had in 2011, except larger.

Joe Klein, a habitual, certified, card-carrying liberal, argued in a June 13, 2011 Time magazine essay that, “If supporters of collective action are going to have any credibility at all, they have to focus perpetually on the efficiency of the programs they support.”

Klein is not the only advocate of strong government who believes the Democratic Party and its advocates concentrate far too much on expanding government and far too little on operating it efficiently. Critics who share his way of thinking blame the Republicans, in turn, for their concentration on limiting government and indifference to making it work better.

This is not entirely unfair, but it doesn’t consider the argument that it’s possible for a government to grow so large and ungainly that conducting it efficiently is hopeless. The bureaucracy may end up running itself for its own benefit while elected officials chatter uselessly about improving its operations.

When people read the term “neo-conservative” these days, it commonly appears as a kind of pejorative directed at advocates of an energetic (or busy-body) foreign policy. Back in the 1970s, when it became clear that many of the ambitious “Great Society” programs enacted under President Lyndon Johnson were turning out poorly, those called neo-conservatives placed a heavy emphasis on domestic programs.

A quarterly periodical, “The Public Interest,” published articles that examined failed programs and explained why they failed. Sometimes the authors proposed reforms, sometimes abolition. Some of those authors, including Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-New York, never accepted the neo-con label. Moynihan never lost his conviction that government functions as a mighty tool of social improvement, but he was concerned about its limitations and about improving its performance.

He pointed to two model government policies: Social Security for retired persons and the tax deduction of mortgage interest rates to encourage home ownership. He believed their success gave us a reliable rule: The success of government programs depends on the simplicity of their bureaucratic administration.

Moynihan died in 2003. We will never know what he thought about the towering pile of legislative and administrative paperwork created by the Affordable Care Act, but we can guess.

John Frary of Farmington is a former congressional candidate and retired history professor, a board member of Maine Taxpayers United and publisher of www.fraryhomecompanion.com. Email to [email protected].


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