Michael Barone

Somervell and his WPA boss Harry Hopkins would have had things moving a lot faster than that. Of course, they didn't have to deal with the intricacies and incrustations of federal procurement policy that have been built up over the years.

They didn't have to get clearance from environmental agencies and then prepare for the lawsuits that in our time area are inevitably launched by environmental advocacy groups (part of the Pentagon was built on mud flats; any endangered species there?).

They didn't have to engage in endless negotiations with state and local agencies. In New York, Somervell settled his disagreements with Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia in brief shouting matches, after which everyone quickly went to work.

A case can be made that some of these changes are beneficial. Recent reconstruction of the Pentagon showed that some of the cement that was supposed to be poured never was. A nearby semi-shanty town inhabited by blacks was ruthlessly torn down. We do want to protect the environment more than Americans did in the 1940s.

But even those conservatives who don't want government to do much do want government to do the things it should be doing reasonably rapidly.

When three days after the BP gulf oil spill, the Dutch government offered their oil-skimming ships and oil-cleansing technology. The Environment Protection Agency rejected them for weeks because the cleaned ocean water would contain more than 15 parts per million of oil. Somervell wouldn't have taken five minutes to make the opposite decision.

Big government has become a big, waddling, sluggish beast, ever ready to boss you around, but not able to perform useful functions at anything but a plodding pace. It needs to be slimmed down and streamlined, so it can get useful things done fast.

By the way, do you think they'll actually finish the Humpback Bridge by next June? Me neither.

Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM