Bush Pledges a Much Leaner Government
Texas Gov. George W. Bush on Friday chided the Clinton administration for falling short in its efforts to “reinvent government” and pledged to do a better job himself and save $88 billion over five years in the process.
Bush promised to cut 40,000 government jobs over five years, reform the civil service system with “performance-based incentives” and try to shift all significant government procurement to the Internet, among other proposals.
Calling the federal bureaucracy cumbersome and unaccountable to the public it serves, Bush said the federal government should look to its state and local counterparts and the private sector for inspiration.
“When Americans look to Washington, they see a government that is slow to respond, slow to reform,” Bush declared from Carpenters’ Hall, where the First Continental Congress was held in 1774. “The strategy for a better government can be found in the private sector.”
Bush, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, vowed a day earlier to make Washington more civil and functional, but spent most of his time Friday talking about changing the tone in the nation’s capital and less about the nuts and bolts of bureaucracy.
Bush focused on ways to slenderize government, on excising layers of management rather than eliminating whole agencies. The process would trim government spending by 1% and help balance the $65 billion in programs that he has proposed in the course of his campaign for the White House.
“We want to change the shape and form of government,” said Stephen Goldsmith, former Indianapolis mayor and head of Bush’s domestic policy team. “You can be smaller by chopping off your arm. You can be smaller by dieting and losing weight. We’ve done the latter.”
Bush noted that the Clinton administration came to Washington in 1993 promising to clear the capital of clutter and bureaucracy and streamline the system. The process, dubbed “reinventing government,” was a cornerstone of the vice presidency of Bush’s rival, Al Gore.
“At last report, they had, in the vice president’s words, ‘created a government that works better and costs less,’ ” Bush said. “But that doesn’t square with the facts. The General Accounting Office looked into some of these claims of big savings. Of those reviewed by the GAO, two-thirds had no evidence to back them up.”
Gore spokesman Douglas Hattaway defended the administration’s reform efforts, saying that there are 377,000 fewer federal employees than when Clinton and Gore took office. Federal spending as a share of the economy has gone down for the first time since the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, Hattaway said, and the federal government has shrunk dramatically.
“Government is smaller than it’s been in a generation, but we’re actually doing more,” Hattaway said.
Paul Light, who is vice president of the nonpartisan Brookings Institution think tank and who consulted with the Bush campaign on the reform plan, said Clinton and Gore have made some strides toward reforming government.
“There’s an awful lot of activity in the federal government right now to make agencies more customer friendly,” Light said. “That’s a success for Gore.”
As an example, Light cited the Social Security Administration, whose customer service phone line, (800) 772-1213, has been rated by a business publication as the best in the country, public or private. But there are still major steps that need to be taken, he said.
“On the one side, there have been real improvements in government’s attitudes toward the public,” Light said. “On the other, there has not been much structural reform in how government actually works.”
Bush proposed a multi-part plan Friday that he contends would remedy that. Half of the 80,000 senior and middle-level managers in the federal government will retire in the next eight years. Bush said that he would not replace half of them, for a savings of $9 billion over five years.
He would require that all affected federal agencies pass their annual audit by 2002 and review government accounting practices. Such steps, he said, could save $32 billion over five years in the reduction of erroneous payments made by government agencies alone.
He pledged to eliminate duplication in federal programs. He would push for shifting all significant government procurement to the Internet within three years, which could save $19 billion over five years.
The Clinton administration has already identified 900,000 federal government jobs as commercial in nature and, therefore, able to be contracted out. Bush has set a goal of opening up half of those jobs to private sector bidding over about eight years. The savings: $14 billion.
Another $14 billion could be saved through so-called performance-based contracting, which changes government contracting practices to focus on the results rather than the method used to obtain them.
The idea behind much of his government reform effort, Bush said in his speech, is to “clear away the layers between the citizen and the decision maker, between the person with the problem and the person with the answer.”
Flying out of Philadelphia to a pair of Connecticut fund-raisers, Bush lightly acknowledged the toll of such a process. During the job-cut portion of his speech, he told reporters, “I saw a couple of middle managers blanch. ‘What’s going to happen to me?’ ”