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What Is Essential?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
Craig Hudson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP

Even though the president has agreed to a three week break in America’s longest running partial shutdown, shutdowns provide some unique opportunities. Should some “unessential services” be permanently shut down or downsized? If something is non-essential, why is the government paying for it at all.


There are exceptional government employees and leaders who are very capable and do their jobs effectively. But what if they are good at doing a job that is not necessary for government to do. It’s hard for any politician in Washington to take on government employees. They not only can demonstrate. They vote!

Peter Drucker, one of the most influential and respected business minds in American history, challenged businesses to exercise “organized abandonment.” He advised: “The first change policy as to be organized abandonment. The change leader puts every product, every service, every process, every market, every distribution channel, every customer, and every end use on trial for its life. And the change leader does this on a regular schedule. The question he has to ask is ‘If we did not do this already, would we, knowing what we know now, go into it?’ If the answer is no, the reaction must not be ‘Let’s make another study.’ The reaction must be ‘What do we do now?’” What we do now, is eliminate what is no longer necessary.

We have a business man as a president. He is fighting the swamp and “business as usual” in Washington. “Business as usual” is what has allowed the Washington swamp to grow and keep growing. Automatic budget increases are expected and built into budgets. Take a minute to ponder—Just what have you missed since the start of the partial shutdown? There are times in your life your family had to make tough decisions of what to cut and get by with less. Why should the federal government budget be any different?


Peter Drucker was known to say, “The essence of strategy is denial.” You have to say “no” to that which is unnecessary to have the resources and the time to do what is absolutely essential. This shutdown provides an opportunity to truly pursue a significant cut in government spending that hasn’t happened since government growth started exploding after World War II.

Many successful companies use zero-based budgeting. Every year, each department has to justify its existence by defending their next year’s budget. Increase aren’t expected. Decreases are common in non-essential areas. Departments are closed and good employees are moved to where they are needed. Zero-based budgeting is desperately needed in Washington.

After all, many government services are provided because they have always been done that way. That is government on auto-pilot. Without leadership and tough priority decisions, government just keeps growing. What if no one cares whether a service is provided monthly or every other month?

Government departments could keep decreasing the service provided until public complaints reach a pre-established level. Once a service is missed, that becomes the minimum level of service. Then establish a level of service that avoids reaching that minimum. Businesses work at investing money to make money, not to create perpetual deficits. Those businesses go under.


Government seems to work at spending money because citizens can vote in politicians who will give them what they want by taking other citizens’ money to pay for it.

Before another government shutdown is needed, it’s time for our politicians to negotiate a compromise illegal immigration plan that includes a barrier where our border guards suggest, a temporary status for DACA dreamers, and a start to crafting a comprehensive immigration plan enough in both parties can support. While we are making the tough decisions, let’s take a stand for funding what is essential, cutting nonessential departments and services, moving good employees to where they can make the most difference, and let go those who should have been gone years ago.

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