We need to stop, take a deep breath, and decide what business the government is in.
Without fiscal reform, our demise may be certain. While I am not an economist (my expertise lies in organizational effectiveness), I know many factors contribute to government effectiveness. Adequate financial resources is one of them. Right now, we are spending our inheritance before grandad has passed on.
For years I have seen many tweets, blogs, articles, and experts discuss the impending doom associated with our growing debt. While attention to the debt is critical, there is much more that needs to be done. We need a national fiscal reform plan.
We spend almost three times more on our military than any other country and nearly 64 percent of the budget is devoted to social insurance programs. Depending on who you talk to, there are those who want a government-funded healthcare system for everyone, a border wall separating Mexico from the United States, a space warfare agency, a more robust Social Security system, a massive investment in infrastructure, and much more. Whatever the merits of any of these things, we need to stop, take a deep breath, and decide what business the government is in. What’s more, we need a well-developed fiscal plan to pay for daily operations, new initiatives and new programs. We must reduce the debt to a sustainable level.
The current approach to fiscal responsibilities is short sighted and willy-nilly. We often face priority whiplash each time a new administration comes in (and fails to address the debt). What I am proposing is that our leaders develop and execute a plan. It’s that basic. That is, we have a defined direction and strategies to ensure the fiscal strengthen of our government and country over time. This multi-year fiscal plan should be based on a National Strategic Plan. The NSP would define the nation’s priorities, be agreed to by our representative bodies, and guide the decisions made each year. It should strengthen our government and ensure the viability of the nation.
The NSP would be based on a set of practical (read non-political) principles and outline specific goals, strategies, actions, and clear and simple measures of success. In other words, it would reaffirm our Constitution and/or make adjustments to establish clear values and identify what is critical to our country over the next 10-20 years. A facilitated constitutional style convention under a defined process—a national summit—should be engaged to develop it.
Before you say, “yeah right, this will never happen,” remember that our Constitution was developed in 87 days by our founding fathers. Not without argument, cajoling, and compromise, but it was done. After more than 230 years, I believe it is time to reestablish our country’s needs and foundation again.
Fiscal reform needs to be part of the NPS and include action on both the revenue and cost side. Revenue is possible from closing the tax gap to increasing user fees and delaying certain benefits. On the cost side, the cost of operations can be reduced in many places; public private partnerships engaged; and programs slow rolled, eliminated, and made more efficient. Leaders need to take a hard look not only at what government does and should do, but also what it should not do.
Along with these strategies and program reforms, the budget process itself should be reformed. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what it costs to develop, approve, manage, and implement with all its manpower, mismanagement, continuing resolutions, decision-making and politics? Could it be streamlined to save money and improve benefits to government and the American people?
To accomplish all of this, strong collective and collaborative leadership is necessary. It requires a dose of practicality and a comprehensive shift in the culture of our government at the top as well as throughout agencies. Culture—the pattern of behavior consistently exhibited across an entity—can be positive or negative. Our leaders, political and career, need to be trained in the finalized NSP and it needs to have a governance structure surrounding it to be managed and adjusted as time or conditions warrant. It needs to transcend administrations and parties.
The American people deserve this and most will understand the need for it. Most of us have experienced difficult financial times in our lives and have had to make adjustments to strengthen ourselves and provide for our families. We may not have always liked the choices, but we made them nonetheless, and our nation can too. I believe that if the American people receive honest, transparent, bipartisan and bicameral information, they will be supportive. Let’s hold a national summit and see what we can accomplish.
Steve Goodrich is the CEO of the Center for Organizational Excellence and author of Transforming Government from Congress to the Cubicle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.