FAGIN: 'Hiring freeze' will accomplish nothing

By: BARRY FAGIN
February 9, 2017 Updated: February 16, 2017 at 7:56 am
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Two weeks ago, President Donald Trump issued a "hiring freeze" for all government agencies. His memo gives the director of the Office of Management and Budget 90 days to come up with a "long-term plan to reduce the size of the federal government's workforce." I hereby predict that within the next 90 days the following things will happen. I also predict they will accomplish nothing.

First, there will be endless exceptions requested and granted. I'm cheating a little bit with this one because it has already happened. Barely a week after the memo, the acting director of OMB listed 20 exemptions to the freeze, including the Postal Service. The Postal Service? Since when did the security of America depend on the timely delivery of junk mail?

I predict that federal agencies will be urged to work more efficiently. All right, I'm cheating here, too. In fact, the president's memo asks federal employees to "seek efficient use of existing personnel and funds."

How exactly is this request different from the exhortations of every single U.S. president and agency head for the past four decades? Federal employees are always being asked to be more efficient. But what's in it for them? Will they get paid better if they're more efficient? Will they get fired if they're not? Of course not.

Federal government agencies are "inherently" inefficient by their very nature of being federal government agencies. For every well-intentioned, thoughtful employee with a good idea, there are a dozen laws, rules, regulations and complacent colleagues that make putting it into practice impossible, illegal or both.

I predict that federal employees will be offered early retirement packages. This will have a tiny effect on reducing the size of the federal workforce, but it won't shrink costs at all. Early retirement simply shifts costs from present taxpayers (us) to future taxpayers (our children). Then bureaucrats can write memos telling Congress how they're saving money. That's just the same old swindle politicians have been pulling on us for years.

Finally, I predict the scope and powers of the federal government will remain unchanged. In the unlikely event that an agency actually winds up with fewer employees, they'll simply be told to do the same jobs they always have, just with fewer people. The resulting consequences could be genuinely awful. Do you really want to wait in line at a DMV office with 20 percent fewer personnel?

The sad thing is, the problem the president is trying to address is real. Our government really is too big. It employs too many people. It taxes too much, it spends too much, and it costs too much. The right way to fix that problem, however, is not to "salami slice." Telling each agency to merely shrink its workforce and be more efficient is going to accomplish nothing. Except perhaps convincing gullible voters you're cutting government.

If you're really serious about cutting government, the right way is to cut vertically. Make priorities, eliminate entire agencies, and privatize.

Do Americans really require the federal government to help them trade, educate, fuel or get themselves from one place to another? If the answer is no, then we don't need Departments of Commerce, Education, Energy or Transportation. Nor is there anything the Department of Veterans Affairs does that can't be done better with a voucher program. The Postal Service? Amtrak? Put 'em up for sale. The government shouldn't be in those businesses at all, let alone with an exclusive monopoly. And the Transportation Safety Administration? Don't get me started.

The case for these and other ways to truly downsize government has been made over and over again by conservative and libertarian think tanks for years, including the one in my closer. These are groups I am proud to support.

Maybe you don't like my list. Fine; make your own and write your congressman. Tell them that if government needs to be downsized, Washington needs to do what you and I do every day: Make priorities, keep what's most important, let the rest go. Anything else is just political theater.

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Barry Fagin is a senior fellow at the Independence Institute in Denver. His views are his alone. Readers can write to Dr. Fagin at barry@faginfamily.net.

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