Obama Budget Rearranging Deck Chairs on the Titanic

Donald Lambro

1/18/2012 12:01:00 AM - Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON - President Obama's puny election year plan to consolidate a handful of government agencies and programs is about three years and $4 trillion too late.

With America's jobless rate stuck at a few tenths below 9 percent, and his dismal job approval polls in the mid-40s -- the equivalent of a failing grade -- Obama is attempting to impersonate a budget cutter. He's fooling no one.

For the last three years, he's been spending our money like there's no tomorrow, signing billions of dollars in bills to create dozens of agencies and assorted bureaucracies that ar ballooning the federal payroll. But he's had little to say about the need to reduce the size of government, let alone attack rampant duplication in a dangerously obese government that teeters on the edge of insolvency.

Can this flip-flop have anything to do with the fact that he now faces a very tough re-election campaign? Or that polls show Mitt Romney, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, with a slight edge in the general election? You betcha.

Nearly a year ago, Obama delivered his State of the Union address, calling for a leaner and more efficient government. Then he went back to work on enlarging the government with his multi-trillion dollar national health care scheme, a huge Consumer Financial Protection Agency that is hiring armies of bureaucrats to regulate out lives, and running up deficits that make George W. Bush look like Ebenezer Scrooge.

If he wanted to cut down the size of the government and eliminate the deficit, where were his proposals when he got here? Why did he wait until the start of his re-election campaign?

He came into Washington in January 2009 with a trunk full of ideas how to spend money, and immediately began spending $800 billion on a jobs stimulus that created few jobs. But that was small change compared to what came next: massive spending and huge budget deficits.

In 2009, he ran up a $1.4 trillion budget deficit, followed by a $1.3 trillion deficit in 2010, another $1.3 trillion in 2011 and is well on his way to an estimated $1 trillion in 2012.

So here he comes with his plan, if Congress gives him the authority, to create a new department that will merge the Commerce Department's trade and business functions with the Small Business Administration (SBA), Office of U.S. Trade Representative, Export- Import Bank, Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the Trade and Development Agency.

Just to prove he's serious, he throws in the Census Bureau, Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. He would move the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Commerce's largest agency) to the Interior Department.

All of this looks like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic that's about to sink beneath the waves of the 2012 election. Musical chairs is not a policy to shrink the size of government.

The supposed savings from this rearrangment: a paltry $3 billion which sounds exaggerated because he doesn't really get rid of anything. Government is given to over the top efficiency claims, but it's hard to find it in this silly Rube Goldberg contraption concocted in Obama's re-election shop.

I have a little experience with many of the agencies that Obama wants to move around on his monopoly board. In 1980 I wrote Fat City, a book that proposed eliminating or reducing hundreds of agencies, departments, programs and other bureaucracies. Many of the agencies Obama is content to just move around should be eliminated.

The Export-Import Bank and OPIC represent corporate welfare at its worst, handing out loans and other benefits to rich Fortune 500 companies. SBA has a very limited but costly record in the small business world and affects a relatively tiny circle of businesses.

Don't get me wrong. There is certainly a great deal of duplication across the vast expanse of government where clerks are busily doing the very same things being done in dozens of other agencies.

In a report last year on the insane growth of duplication and overlap throughout the bureaucracy, the Government Accountability Office discovered 82 programs to improve teacher quality. The GAO said many if not most of them "share similar goals," but that "there is no government-wide strategy to minimize fragmentation, overlap, or duplication..."

These and other spending scandals were contained in a 345-page audit, that GAO annually provides to Congress as a result of legislation authored by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

Among its shocking findings as spelled out by Coburn:

-- "Twenty agencies operating 56 programs dedicated to financial literacy."

-- "Eighty economic development programs at four agencies at a cost of $6.5 billion."

-- "The Department of Transportation spends $58 billion on 100 programs run by five agencies with 6,000 employees that haven't evolved since 1956."

-- "Fifteen federal agencies administer more than 30 food- related laws."

-- "At least five departments, eight agencies and more than two dozen presidential appointees oversee $6.48 billion related to bioterrorism."

-- There are more than 20 separate programs to help the homeless, and 80 programs dealing with economic development.

So here comes little Obama with a minuscule, $3 billion pop gun plan to attack government duplication that won't make a dent in the problem.

Last year's revealing GAO report showed that by ending duplication "we could save taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars every year," Coburn says.

It's clear that neither Obama nor the people around him know about this report. He should give Coburn a call if he's serious about this.