Column: A modest proposal to reform the U.S. government

By Walter Raquet

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Government is too big and out of control. My solution, which I will outline in detail, is to run the federal government like a business, with a board of directors composed of Democratic, Republican and independent business executives and industry experts for every government agency.

Every company has a board of directors that has oversight of the company’s activities. The federal government is really the largest company in the world and needs to be run like one. There is no effective oversight of the government agencies. They provide goods and services just like a business and should be run that way. What we have now is a bunch of politicians with little to no experience supervising all of the government agencies. Look at the mess we are in. We need change, the right kind of change.

 Every government agency should have a board of directors made up of seasoned business executives and eminent industry experts equally who either volunteer their services or receive modest compensation. The board would help steer the agency to better operations and efficiency in coordination with the cabinet secretary, appointed by the President.

 Let’s look at a hypothetical example with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. An article in the Fiscal Times from 2015 states that the Veterans Affairs secretary, Bob McDonald, himself a successful businessman and turnaround artist before entering the administration, says “his department is so cash-strapped that it’s struggling to accommodate the massive number of veterans seeking treatment.” Clearly his hands are tied. If he were the head of or member of a board of directors charged with cleaning things up, he could make a lot more progress.

Certainly the federal agency entrusted to stretch tax dollars as far as they can go to get veterans the best medical care is not spending our tax dollars wisely. It’s not helping monetarily or, even worse, healthwise.

According to the Fiscal Times story, McDonald has urged Capitol Hill to focus on the fact that the VA has 336 buildings across the country, covering about 10.5 million square feet, that are either sitting vacant or less than 50 percent occupied. He has called upon lawmakers to close or consolidate the facilities, but nothing has been done.

If this agency were run by a board of directors, the board would immediately think of closing or consolidating underutilized facilities to free up millions of dollars that could otherwise be used to pay more doctors and nurses to treat the backlog of patients at VA facilities across the country.

Some in government, such as former presidential candidate and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, have urged that the U.S. Department of Commerce be eliminated. That may or may not be the right thing to do, since the agency does do work that other agencies would need to pick up, but a board comprised of people like Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric; Michael Corbat, CEO of Citigroup; John Kotter of Harvard Business School and Larry Fink of Blackrock could determine that fairly quickly. They could offer a real plan for eliminating each and every wasteful regulation and resizing and refocusing the department in order to help businesses and create jobs.

For the biggest of them all, the Department of Defense, the same logic holds. Let’s give real power to a board consisting of the likes of Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric; retired Gen. Colin Powell; Mitt Romney; retired Gen. David Petraeus; efficiency expert Michael Porter of Harvard and John Chambers of Cisco. They could and would scour every program and budget item and produce brutally honest reports and what’s working and what’s not.

Would such a board put up with $900 hammers and multibillion-dollar aircraft the Air Force doesn’t want? I don’t think so. Would Jack Welch, known for firing the bottom 10 percent of his employees each year, tolerate poor performance? I think not.

Meanwhile, the IRS fails to collect around $300 billion in money lost to tax fraud annually. For many of the past 10 years this amount has actually exceeded the total collected from corporations, according to the Tax Foundation. It is unimaginable that a business with a competent board of directors would fail to collect $300 billion in accounts receivable each year.

 The boards I propose would determine the purpose of every agency in each department and what regulations they control. Objectives of the boards would be as follows:

  • How can those regulations be improved and streamlined?
  • Are the services of the agency necessary?
  • Are the services being provided in the most cost-effective manner?
  • Can any of the work they provide be outsourced to the private sector on a more cost-effective basis?
  • Is the compensation being paid to the agency employees competitive with the private sector?
  • If the salary and benefits are not competitive, they should be adjusted immediately (either upward or downward).
  • Are they using cost-effective technology?
  • Do they have the proper controls in place to prevent fraud and waste?
  • Is there proper accounting, financial and management reporting in place to evaluate the effectiveness of the agency?

This country needs more common-sense businessmen and women involved in government. The concept is simple: Each board would apply the best and most efficient business practices to a failing and wasteful system. A lack of accountability in government is perpetuating inefficiency, harmful and needless regulations and strangling our businesses, with no real progress or repercussion.

Democratic, Republican and independent business executives, really experts of all stripes, must unite and help shape our government operations. Only a board of directors made up of experienced business people can get this done. Our politicians have proven themselves inept.

Greenwich resident Walter Raquet is a former Wall Street executive, CEO and director of Green Earth Technologies in Greenwich and an adviser to AtmosAir Solutions in Fairfield. He is the author this year of “Government Is Killing The Economy!” published by Significance Press. He can be reached at wr@wrg.com or 561-267-9785.

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