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Ken Adelman
Political advisor

Ken Adelman

A Reagan-era Ambassador and Arms Control Director, Ken Adelman is co-founder and vice-president of Movers and Shakespeares, which offers executive training and leadership development.

Can government fix it?

Q: Republican leaders have built their energy policies around increased oil and gas extraction, dismissing environmental dangers. How should they respond to the Gulf oil spill if they want to preserve offshore drilling as a politically viable option?

The quintessence of staunch conservatism, Republican Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, limited government's role to the bare minimum of two tasks - securing America's defense and subsidizing tobacco growers.

Recent serial disasters -- Gulf oil spill, Times Square car-bomber, immigration flood, Wall Street malfeasance (at least, shenanigans) - shows that conservative Republican anti-governmentism is no longer convincing.

Nonetheless, most government is fearfully inefficient. And the rise of public employees -- in powerhouse unions, with unchallenged power in Democratic politics -- is a growing scourge to America's future.

How to square the circle?

Have government responsible for setting the rules on oil rigs, immigration, financial dealings, domestic security, etc. Then hire private firms to do the bulk of the work needed, and to see that it's done effectively. That way, government can fire those who do a poor job. With its own employees, government can fire nobody, ever. Hence, incompetents rule and incompetence reigns.

Some 100 employees of the TSA, for instance, could have set performance standard for airport security, and contracted enforcement to sundry private firms. A separate firm would be paid solely to try to enter the secure area with a weapon or explosive, and get a big bonus for each successful intrusion. The enforcing firm would get warned, and eventually fired, if there were too many violations.

Government would thus do what it can do best: Set performance standards for Americans' good, and stay clear of what it does worse, operations with top performance.

By Ken Adelman

 |  May 4, 2010; 1:52 PM ET
Category:  Political leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I am a retired military officer and a former government contractor. The situation is not as simple as some of the comments make it out to be. For example, it is logical and more efficient to hire contractors to perform certain logistical functions in support of major operations than to maintain a large logistical arm year in and year out when there are no Iraqs or Afghanistans to support. However, I agree that the private security firms were a disaster and they were contracted to perform functions that should havve been undertaken by uniformed military personnel.

Given the increasing cost of everything, it makes more sense to maintain a permanent armed force with a very high tooth to tail ratio - a lot more warriors than supporters. That hasn't been the case in the past. Year in and year out, massive deployments like Iraq and Afghanistan are the exceptions rather than the rule. This concept worked fairly well in the Balkans when adequate governmental oversight was applied.

Posted by: jimd52 | May 4, 2010 11:16 PM
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The myth that private companies will always do a job better than a government agency is what led to such wonderful arrangements as hiring Blackwater for protecting American diplomats in Iraq. The marines could do a better job at a fraction of the cost. The same could be said for logistical support of the Armed forces. Hiring more soldiers to handle logistics would have saved a bundle instead of the government filling Haliburton's coffers. When it comes to providing public services the jury is out whether it is done better by private or public entities. Either one can be incompetent, corrupt and expensive. It is all a matter of how carefully they are watched.

Posted by: serban1 | May 4, 2010 9:54 PM
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The question for the conservatives is if a nation could exits with out a strong government.We all know that it is not possible,for instance, conservatives are no more than very harmful demagogues.

Posted by: rappahanock | May 4, 2010 9:35 PM
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From the mess made by Wall Street, the auto and airline industry, I'll take government operations. Social Security, probably the biggest of all, works well. The much maligned IRS, despite the burdens placed on it by Congress, operates efficiently.

Posted by: barlef | May 4, 2010 8:17 PM
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