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What a real 'pledge to America' would look like

Republicans launched yet another salvo against big government yesterday. Alongside the shopworn promise to reduce government duplication and overlap, the Republican "Pledge to America" vows to impose sunsets on all federal programs and a hard freeze on federal hiring in all but a handful of agencies.

Republicans clearly understand that Americans don't trust the federal government, but they have misread the underlying cause. Americans are not saying they want to slash government at all. They are saying: make government work. Americans want more of virtually everything the federal government delivers but are convinced the bureaucracy is rife with inefficiency. They want government to raise the bar on performance, not eviscerate the workforce or jettison programs that protect the public from the abuses that sparked the economic catastrophe in the first place.

Republicans are no doubt right that the private sector must take the lead in creating jobs. They are also right to criticize the duplication and overlap that the Obama administration has already put at the top of its management agenda.

But Republicans are wrong to think that sunsets and hiring freezes will do anything to improve government performance. To the contrary, the Pledge to America will almost certainly produce even more bureaucratic failures, particularly at the federal agencies that failed to protect Americans from counterfeit Heparin, tainted meat, Ponzi schemes, faulty brakes, broken bridges, toxic eggs and a host of other threats to public safety and confidence.

Democrats are hardly above reproach in these meltdowns. Republicans may have taken a rusty ax into the debate, but Democrats have either run from the problems or picked up tweezers for minute tinkering.

Neither party seems to understand that mistrust in government is the product of the federal government's cascade of highly visible failures. Americans may not fully understand the federal organization chart, but they know something is wrong. Bluntly put, Americans have come to doubt just about every promise that the federal government makes.

Alas, the federal government has given Americans plenty of reason to wonder whether it can do anything well. Some of the doubts are rooted in partisan conflict and a drumbeat of anti-government rhetoric, but most are rooted in the recent escalation of government failures. Each failure is soon replaced with another--bombing plots fade into brake recalls, which fade into mine disasters, which fade into oil spills, which fade into eggs. But the failures add up to doubts that linger for years, if not decades. In turn, those doubts create ample opportunity for electioneering by the minority party. Neither party is innocent. Democrats were just as agile in exploiting the government failures under George W. Bush as Republicans are in attacking the doubts under Barack Obama.

Republicans and Democrats must take a different approach. There is nothing more important in these times of great turbulence than the faithful execution of the laws. But the laws cannot be faithfully executed without the systems, workforce and resources to do the job. Republicans should know that it takes money to spend money wisely, while Democrats should admit that they have avoided the fundamental reforms that would put government on a safe, effective course.

The time for axes and tweezers is long past. Although there is much to admire in the Obama administration's growing list of management reforms, the president has not risen to the much larger challenge. He has yet to utter a sentence about the need for bureaucratic reform, and seems woefully disinterested in his constitutional role as administrator in chief.

Bureaucratic reform may not be the exciting issue in his briefing books (if it is in there all), but Obama has an obligation to act nonetheless. After all, Democrats built many of the agencies that are now struggling to perform. Just as Richard Nixon was the right president to open the dialogue with China, Obama may be the only president who can lead the desperately needed restructuring.

If Republicans want to change the laws, let them do so. But until the laws are changed, they should stand ready to join in a bipartisan effort to remove the bureaucratic obstacles to high performance. They should work together to eliminate the needless layers of management, eliminate the duplication and overlap, rebuild the front lines of government, measure and reward productivity rather than time on the job, and make performance count in the budget process. Republicans could claim credit for saving taxpayers billions in needless spending, while Democrats could accept accolades for improving performance.

It is a win/win proposition for both parties, but one that can only be achieved through a bipartisan approach to building a high-performance government. Obama should leave no doubt that he intends to do something significant. He should make a different pledge to America, and ask Republicans to work with him to make sure government can faithfully execute all the laws, not just the ones they like.

By Paul Light

 |  September 23, 2010; 7:36 PM ET |  Category:  Crisis leadership , Federal government leadership , Public leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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The mantra of athletes is "no pain, no gain".

Washington does not understand.

In the 11 recessions since WWII, private businesses have cut back and become more efficient (by at least 10% each time). Government has not.

Computers have reduced the need for many types of government employees, but their jobs still exist.(At a much higher rate of pay than the people who pay the taxes earn)

The government could therefore cut back by 80% and actually increase efficiency!

The talk of "increasing taxes" stops hiring, so by reducing government, and taxes, jobs will follow for the laid-off government workers as well as private workers.

Let's be strong again by taking the pain and making the gain!

Posted by: donx65 | September 28, 2010 12:39 PM

Yes we are saying govt has grown too big. Govt intrusion into education made a mess of our educational processes. Then govt decides to intrude into the housing market. We just had a meltdown of our financial system thanks to that decision. Now the govt wants involved in the health care industry. So this country now looks forward into the govt destroying the last industry that America has that is globally well respected. Everything the federal govt decides to regulate and intrude into they ruin. People want the federal govt OUT of the regulating business. Close up shop and let people and the states govern as they should have been doing. The federal govt has grown to become a bloated caricature of itself. It needs massively trimmed and a drop of it's ability to cause nationwide chaos due to mismanagement. We need to severely limit the federal govt's ability to do anything. It's time for a major change in how our country is governed.

Posted by: Desertdiva1 | September 28, 2010 11:37 AM

LIBERTYMEANSLIFE, You appear to possess the mental ability of knowing what we all want. That's great, but the problem is your ability is all in your head. The vast majority of us want a well functioning government. We have no interest in returning to the industrial revolution era that existed just before the turn of the 20th century. Your thinking represents about 25% of this country who learn and believe everything you know from Rush Limpnuts, Sarah Palin, Glemm Beck, and Anne Coulter.

LIBERTYMEANSLIFE, have you ever watched the movie "Million Dollar Baby"? The female boxer managed by Clint Eastwood? No. Probably not. Eastwood is an elitist too. But if you do get the chance, please pay special attention to the femfemale boxer's mother and son. They are the epitome of your garden variety republican.

Posted by: swatkins1 | September 26, 2010 4:22 PM

je121819 wrote:
I stopped reading after the second paragraph. Americans do want less government, they are sick of elitists like this author telling them how everything should be run. Keep it simple, stupid (kiss) is how people feel.
Apparently you've stopped reading after the second paragraph far too many times (what, since second grade?). Your sour anti-elitist rant simply proves that there ARE people smarter than you who should be listened to, while you should be ignored.

So you distrust elitists? OK, stop trusting your physician, or your lawyer. Stop even trusting your pastor (or rabbi or imam), who likely has "elitist" training far beyond what you do. Stop trusting your accountant. God forbid you should trust anyone with esoteric (look it up, bubba) knowledge.

Start trusting other "real people" when you need help solving problems requiring specialized knowledge--Old Stretch at the corner bar is an expert, after all, on regulating the financial markets. Yeah, that's the ticket! Start trusting athletes and entertainers for their expert opinions on the complicated issues of the day. Start trusting the populist politicians who tell you to distrust those dreaded elitists. Yeah, you know the populists: there the ones championing the cause of the "common man" while all along serving their corporate paymasters who pull the strings behind the curtains. And always believe the vacuous platitude "Vox populi, vox Dei" (yeah, you'll have to look that one up, too . . .).

There is value in the "KISS" (keep it simple, stupid) principle insofar as it means that Occam's razor is shaving away (ANOTHER one to look up [alternate spelling: Ockhem] . . .). But reflexive anti-intellectual, anti-elitist rhetoric simply means "keep it simple for me, because I'm stupid." And it also means "Ignore me, because I don't have the sense NOT to break the silence when I can't improve upon it, which is almost always."

While "feelings" do matter, ordinarily I could care less how people "feel" (you wrote "Keep it simple, stupid (kiss), is how people feel."). I care a good deal more about how well (or, too often, poorly) they think. But what do I know? I'm just a cranky elitist.

Posted by: post_reader_in_wv | September 26, 2010 2:14 PM

Light is making a wrong assumption, that the republicans want to govern. On the contrary they would be happy to work to shut this government down and have said so and actually attempted it in the past. They want no regulations, no government oversight, no laws on business conduct, safety or monopolies. Government, to them, works against America, not for it. You cannot expect these people to join anyone in governing this nation.

As for government's failures, it is Light who is using tweezers to pull out problems to spotlight. All of the problems he notes were problems cause by businesses that escaped oversight or bought it off. Government is not perfect, but no one is complaining about social security, medicare, the VA, the military, even getting your IRS refund in a reasonable time. But many of these well working systems are under attack by republicans who think they are somehow evil socialist systems left over from the soviet days.

We've seen what we get when we let them have the helm of America. They have proven that in America you only need the support of the top 2% of the wealthy and a propaganda machine to win elections.

And what of their stated policies? They had 14 years of control of congress, 6 years of that with a republican in the white house, yet no repeal of roe-v-wade. Yet they bring it up every election. They do not even get their own stated agenda passed when they have complete control because they truly could care less. If they repealed roe-v-wade they would have one less hot button issue to garner votes. The only legislation they care about is cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy. Its the only reason they exist. You cannot expect such a political party to care about governing when their only goal is to stop government.

Posted by: Fate1 | September 26, 2010 9:21 AM


Oops time to stop and think for a bit and,lets find some facts and comparisons to argue.
Lets do what or congress seems unable to do and, work together to tell them what changes we want.
Remember that the USA was created from good Ideas and compromise, and it worked, better that any thing before!
Lets ,all citizens, do it again!

Posted by: alan_gregorich | September 26, 2010 4:54 AM

"Make Government Work"
"High Efficiency Government"
Insanity. Stupidity. Absurd. Delusional.

No government anywhere has done that. None has come close. What part of leadership training has led you to believe it is possible with government? The very nature of the best invites, encourages, and rewards inefficiencies, lollygagging, and sub-par performance. The simple fact that a failed program gets more money should make it all clear to the motivational methods used.
Grow up and start learning from past mistakes. This column can only be described as a childish rant (even if it mirrors polling data, it is then only reflective of a larger childish view held by many that should be the responsibility of this paper to educate, not pander to).

Posted by: natecar | September 25, 2010 10:49 PM

Who or what party should I vote for in 2010 & 2012???

I had hoped that the Republicans will finally wake up to the rallying cry of the many Tea Partyers and Independents, including more than 65% of Americans polled who state emphatically that the government SHOULD protect our borders from further illegal immigration AND most importantly in achieving that goal, we should clarify and redefine the true meaning behind the 14th ammendment. That this ammendment should NO LONGER be used by both illegal immigrants and those foreign nationals living/working/making money here in US BUT do not pay fair share of taxes as citizens depending on tax treaty arrangements with their native country AND YET, the children born to these foreign expatriats ARE GRANTED US CITIZENSHIP! Diplomats and government officials' children are the only exemption from birthright citizenship. More than illegal immigrant issue, those who work here, make profit here, make investments here all with no capital gains taxes paid, no social security paid and no medicare paid are granted IMMEDIATE CITIZENSHIP to their children? Who will pay for these childrens' entitlements and government student loans if and when as adults they return to US as independents to have access to all the entitlements granted to true citizens of US? And why should we pay for their access when their allegiance, their parent's allegiance is to their country of origin of their parents who eventually return to their country of origin after their work assignment/student visass(see:http://www.thenewamerican.com/index.php/usnews/immigration/4453-automatic-citizenship) that explains the boundaries and questions regarding the ambiguity of 14th ammendment ( and the GREAT, IMMEDIATE NEED for clarification and further restrictions needed. That is what is truly needed but missing in the PLEDGE TO AMERICA - to protect us citizens from invasion and foreigners claiming immediate right to citizenship by manipulating the ambiguity of the 14th ammendment, especially by those wealthy and elite foreign EXPATS!!!

Posted by: american17 | September 25, 2010 9:52 PM

People who believed in destroying government used to be called ANARCHISTS.

Now they're called you know who.

Trust is a two-way street. If the government can't trust the people,
how can the people trust their government.

Posted by: cjherzfeld@verizon.net | September 25, 2010 9:42 PM

The Pledge is a joke......meaningless cuts in government spending and exempting dod and security...ridiculous.....we are spending approx. $1.3 TRILLION a year on DESTRUCTION and senseless wars we created- war on terrorism (BTW- the enemy has no standing army, navy or air force and lives in caves and huts), war on drugs (a failure for over 40 years and the incarceration of more people than any other country at a cost of $55-60,000 a prisoner a year...ridiculous- legalize drugs and tax them), border war (read above war on drugs- legalize and the majority of the border problem goes away), war on poverty (of course we almost nothing on this as the landed gentry get filthy richer and richer by stealing from Americans), etc. etc.

This November use the 80-20 rule as follows- throw out 80% of the republicans and democrats and reduce government spending by a minimum of 20% with 15% reduction in dod and security (saving approx. $200 billion next year) and do that for the next 5 years......

Americans are entitled to a government BY AND FOR THE PEOPLE - not for colluding politicians and the landed gentry!!!!

Posted by: ticked | September 25, 2010 9:41 PM

Keep it stupid, Simple.

Posted by: lambcannon | September 25, 2010 5:51 PM

Mine disasters, oil spills, rotten eggs and the like are failures of private enterprise, not government. Government didn't cause Deepwater Horizon to blow. To the extent that government is responsible, it's due to stocking consumer protection agencies with people friendly to corporations. For that, we have mostly Republicans and ConservaDems to blame. And don't get me started on Libertarians. (By the way, teabaggers are right-wing Republicans.)
Thirty years of Reaganism are starting to really take a toll.

Posted by: bdunn1 | September 25, 2010 5:11 PM

"There is nothing more important in these times of great turbulence than the faithful execution of the laws"

You mean laws like our immigration laws? (Among other laws ignored)

Posted by: r_leever | September 25, 2010 3:48 PM

"Americans are not saying they want to slash government at all. They are saying: make government work. Americans want more of virtually everything the federal government delivers but are convinced the bureaucracy is rife with inefficiency.
Absolutely! And when the inefficiency is deliberately introduced by Administrations that believe in less regulation, and market place efficiency, and appoint people to government positions who share that philosophy - well, let the MMS be the poster child.

Posted by: shadowmagician | September 25, 2010 12:17 PM

Looking for job? Local Companies are Recruiting for the Fall Season http://bit.ly/au7QDJ

Posted by: jaymarc25 | September 25, 2010 5:33 AM

Friends don't let friends trust republicans. They're the liars at the table.

Posted by: Nymous | September 25, 2010 4:18 AM

The Republican Tea Party pledge to abolish America is the wrong messages. It sends a mixed signal, we let you down, we don't have any ideas, so lets destroy government and start again.

I think the best Republican voter would be someone on death row.

Posted by: COWENS99 | September 24, 2010 10:21 PM

I stopped reading after the second paragraph. Americans do want less government, they are sick of elitists like this author telling them how everything should be run. Keep it simple, stupid (kiss) is how people feel.

Posted by: je121819 | September 24, 2010 1:08 PM

libertymeanslife, I get where you are coming from,& I think there is a balance point between a) smaller (your idea) and b) efficient (doing more).

We are wasteful, but given the budget it is not the reduction in gov't services that will make that change, it will be the military sector & untimaately SS, medicare. If we can really bring down costs in these areas it will serve the US well. What are saliant ideas to reduce medical costs at the prevention level, not the last 5 yrs of life? How much in military spending (now 40% of budget with contractors) is enough?

We still lead the world in inovation, but are obvioulsy now in contention for that lead. That will never return unless we expect India, China, Japan, EU to simply stop in their inovation as well. It is a new game.

I agree with you about jobs being sent overseas now, some to nations hostile to the USA?????? Do we (and business) have the political will to say "No" to China exports and raise our prices on goods made in the US?

Members of Congress have terrific pension plans and they should be halted or in line with lower levl workers.

Your comments on Obama are incorrect though. He has taken no more vacations than Bush did, and like it or not, that tax bill for vacationing Presidents has been pretty much in line with all presidents for the last 30 years.

Dems are not looking out for the illegals and muslims, they realize both are complex issues & Muslims want the opportunity for religious freedom along side Christians. Illegals looking to better their family - reduce the #, enforce the laws, and give a clear path to citizenship under 10 yrs. Allow the best, brighteswt and hardest working a path. Obama has come down harder on businesses hiring illegals than Bush did and border crossings are now at a 5 yr low.

We don't want to dismantle Washington, just show us we are getting bang for our buck. Show us the IRS reponds quickly and fairly, show us the friendly, fast, workers at teh USPS, show us our investments through TARP are paying dividands, Show us the EPA, FDA and Office of Mining are doing their jobs for our benefit and I will happily pay my taxes and not ask to pay less. Again, show us the bang ofr our buck.

Posted by: cadam72 | September 24, 2010 1:07 PM

You are absolutely wrong: we the people want to slash government, make it much smaller, more efficient. We have so much wasteful and illegal spending in our government that these spendings could feed our hungry, help the unemployed more, etc. We are starting down the path to a 3rd world nation. We just don't know how to do anything except technology. What happened to research & development, the American can-do spirit, what happened that jobs are being sent overseas now, some to nations hostile to the USA??????

Both parties much reform. There are so many perks and staff for both branches of Congress; why did the Truman adm. work so well with so little perks? Members of Congress have terrific pension plans (wish we JQ public could have just a little of that, their health plans are wonderful (what about taking what JQ public has to take, Congress), they fly all over the world on our tax dollars on "fact finding missions", they eat at very expensive restaurants and do they pay the tab?? Then we have Obama who vacations all the time on our tax bill and that is a hugh bill with all the staff, airplanes, secret service, hotel bills, food bills, etc. Michelle really knows how to spent taxpayers money at very high priced hotels.

These people in Washington care not for the American citizens. The Democrats (and Obama) are looking after the illegals and muslims (Obama has filed a human rights violation in the UNITED NATIONS against Arizona). How about that, folks, filing with he UN against a state of our nation that is attempting to protect its U.S. citizens and Obama is trying to protect the illegals.

I've had it with Washington and so have many, many other Americans. Yes, our government is way too big and needs to downsize. Lay off some of the idiots. Let us lay off a lot of them in Nov. and then Obama.

Posted by: libertymeanslife | September 24, 2010 12:05 PM

This column's style points out one of the failures of the Democratic Party and the critics of the Republicans. Instead of a hard fast list of 10-12 things needed to be done, we get a policy wonk essay. The average voter(Independant) that is leaning Tea Party or Republican is tired of essays. Make a checklist of a few things to get done, and then get them done.

Posted by: davidhoffman1062 | September 24, 2010 11:15 AM

Washington post where is my last statement why did you delete it ? Did I ruffle your feathers an you did not like truth to be told ?

Posted by: JWTX | September 24, 2010 11:10 AM

Republicans want to KILL the American government, so corporations can rule over us, with no protects for WE THE PEOPLE!

Posted by: thomasmc1957 | September 24, 2010 10:56 AM

There is no laws that are being adhered too in Gongress an Big Business. Thats what blantenly wrong with our Country. USA is lawless Country letting the Elite run rampit with all of their ill doings walking around so arrogantly. I want them all in jail an to seize their Bank Accounts all of them!

Posted by: JWTX | September 24, 2010 10:31 AM

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