Washington. -- So President Clinton has given Vice President Gore the task of reinventing the federal government -- of rooting out "waste, fraud and abuse." Well, lotsa luck to both of them.
Mr. Gore will see quickly that there are few if any agencies of government that wouldn't be more efficient with a 30 percent cut in employees. He will also discover that government feeds on itself, and grows with every feeding. My years in government taught me the reasons for this:
Prestige. Department and agency heads see their importance largely in terms of the size of the bureaucracy that they boss. For example, tell the Central Intelligence Agency that the Cold War is over and that the U.S. doesn't need as many spies, as many people analyzing Russian crop reports or public speeches, as was the case 30 years ago. What you will get is a litany of new reasons why the CIA must retain a huge, secret budget and enjoy a powerful place in all foreign policy discussions.
Meetings and memos. Almost no one other than the president himself can alone make a final decision on anything of even modest importance in the federal hierarchy. If one official suggests letting a thousand Haitian refugees into the United States, someone will call for an interagency task force to study the problem.
Health and Human Services will want to talk about the impact on American schools, and the welfare, medical care and other implications. The Labor Department will want to discuss the unavailability of jobs. Someone in the Pentagon will see national-security implications. Obviously, the State Department will weigh in. Plus the Justice Department, the CIA, the U.S. Information Agency, and more.
Everyone on the task force will go to his department to write a memo. This will require a dozen underlings to write reply memos. The cost will be hundreds of wasted man-hours in which bureaucrats of marginal necessity provide make-work for expendable employees.
Ignored whistle-blowers. I recently got a letter from Jeffrey D. Cohen of Alexandria, Virginia, who recently left employment as a systems accountant in the Office of Finance of the Immigration & Naturalization Service. Mr. Cohen complains of recent additions to the INS bureaucracy, and about "an overgraded staff of mostly GS-14 and GS-15 people doing work that in most agencies would be handled by mainly GS-9s, 11s, and 13s."
He was afraid to blow the whistle while working for the INS. Most federal workers know that whistle-blowers almost always get hung out to dry. Mr. Cohen says he has written to President Clinton, Sen. David Pryor's subcommittee on civil service, and Sen. Ted Kennedy's subcommittee on immigration about the waste and abuse in INS, but that he has not received any comments from any of them.
Mr. Gore will never reinvent our government unless he diverts a portion of the present bureaucracy to the job of responding to charges such as Mr. Cohen has put forth.
Consultants. A tremendous portion of federal waste does not involve people on the actual payrolls of agencies and departments. Billions of dollars go to "consultants" who claim expertise on everything imaginable. Even when their advice is worthless, the money keeps flowing to the consultants who, in many cases, are providing jobs for the relatives and friends of the bureaucrats who approve the consultancy payments.
Mr. Gore cannot "reinvent government" until he makes dramatic examples of agencies that are rife with bloat, waste and "sweetheart" consultancies. I can hardly wait to see where he cracks down first.
Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.