NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Reforming the Public Sector

June 13, 2014

The federal government is in serious need of structural reform, says James C. Capretta, visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Since 1980, private institutions have undergone continuous transformation. Spurred by new technology and global competition, the private sector has changed, grown and become more efficient. The internet has been a large part of this transformation, as consumers have demanded convenience, transparency and choice.

The public sector has not had a similar transformation. It has been 70 years since federal agencies were last reorganized, and bureaucrats have not reexamined structures and practices that are no longer relevant. For example, the Social Security Administration has 1,250 field offices (as many as they had 30 years ago), despite the growth of the internet, which has made so many physical offices unnecessary.

According to the Pew Research Center, only 28 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the federal government, while 63 percent have a favorable view of their own local governments.  The problem is not that the government is understaffed. Federal employment is up, expected to reach 1.365 million employees in 2015, not including the employees of government contractors.

How can the U.S. fix its inefficient, bloated government? Capretta outlines a reform agenda:

  • Congress could give the president a one-time authority to reorganize agencies and consolidate programs that are duplicative and unnecessary.
  • Paying taxes, keeping track of Social Security and seeing Medicare bills should be simple: all that it requires is better information technology (IT). The government needs to hire strong IT talent to transform the agencies that have extensive citizen contact.
  • The federal government owns 28 percent of all U.S. land and 1 million buildings across the nation. Disposing of unnecessary land or property would save money and could be put to better use in the private sector.
  • Agency managers should be given broader authority to reform their agencies and transfer resources. They should also be paid based on experience and credentials, not according to the federal salary schedule.

Source: James C. Capretta, "Reform Conservatism Should Tackle Public Sector," Economics21, June 11, 2014.


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