08.24.2012 0

Clean up the budget the way Rudy cleaned up Gotham

Rudy GiulianiBy Bill Wilson — “If you want to change big things, you pay attention to small things.” That was how former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani described his approach to crimefighting to CSPAN during his tenure in office from 1994 to 2001.

Called the broken windows theory, it was originated by James Wilson and George Kelling in a 1982 article for the Atlantic Monthly, “Broken Windows,” and further fleshed out by Kelling and co-author Catharine Coles in 1996 in a book on the same topic.

The idea is that cracking down on petty crime and even keeping streets cleaner will lead to an environment that fosters a decline in major crimes. So, cops began targeting graffiti, public drinking, getting the homeless off the street, and going after subway fare dodgers.

And what do you know. Crime rates dropped precipitously in New York, the streets are cleaner, and tourists came back to a town they once feared. Times Square became a beacon of commerce instead of a hub for drugs and prostitution. Murder rates dropped a whopping 66 percent between 1993 and 2001.

Washington, D.C. could learn much from Giuliani’s example.

Whoever takes over the White House and Congress next year should take the same approach of fixing broken windows to the budget. Even as elected officials train their collective eye on fixing big ticket items like entitlement reform and reining in the $2.1 trillion mandatory side of the budget that runs on autopilot, they need to pay attention to the $1.3 trillion discretionary side of the budget plus tax expenditures they have more control over.

Here’s the theory: By cleaning up things we don’t need like subsidies for wind projects, the National Endowments for Arts and Humanities, public broadcasting, and other unnecessary programs, it will become easier for Congress to cut the things and reform the gargantuan government programs we must.

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) found trillions of dollars of such savings, many on the discretionary side of the ledger, that could be enacted in his “Back in Black” budget plan.

The proposal is wide-ranging, and this limited space does not allow for a full accounting of its 624 pages of specific budget cuts totaling more than $9 trillion over ten years. But, merely arbitrarily selecting a few provisions gives an idea of where Coburn is looking.

The plan would reduce the federal civilian employee and contractor workforces by 15 percent, cut agency travel budgets, eliminate project labor agreements for federal contracts, slash agency advertising budgets in half, kill federal funding for presidential election campaigns, eliminate redundant agencies, and more.

That’s just general government, and there Coburn finds $911.5 billion in ten-year discretionary savings.

Focusing now on sheer dollar amounts, another $4.2 billion could be cut from Congress’ budget, $5.4 billion from the Executive Office of the President, $7.7 billion from the judiciary, $26 billion from the Department of Commerce, $963 billion from the Defense, $330.8 billion from the Education, $101.7 billion from Energy, and $106.7 billion from Health and Human Services.

Not through yet. He’d also cut $23.3 billion from Homeland Security, $88.7 billion from Housing and Urban Development, $26.4 billion from Interior, $34.5 billion from Justice, $67.8 billion from Labor, $192.1 billion from State and additional foreign aid, $192.2 billion from Transportation, $9.6 billion from Treasury, $13.5 billion from Veterans Affairs, $5.3 billion from the U.S. Corps of Engineers, $33.7 billion from the Environmental Protection Agency, $51.1 billion from NASA, and $14.2 billion from the National Science Foundation.

Another $3.2 billion could be saved from the Small Business Administration. $48.9 billion from independent agencies like the Marine Mammal Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the General Services Administration and more.

That’s more than $3.2 trillion of ten-year savings just on the discretionary side the equation, or about $320 billion a year. This is the Giuliani equivalent of ridding the city of the squeegee men who were unnecessarily wiping motorists’ windshields and then demanding payment for the “service” that had been provided.

Coburn used a methodology that took aim at programs deemed needless, wasteful, duplicative, not cost-efficient, parochial (only served special interests), or simply mismanaged. Not a bad place to start.

And who knows? By tackling these smaller items — it’d be excellent discipline for Congress to look at the discretionary budget with a microscope — suddenly, real entitlement and welfare reform, addressing the real drivers of the $16 trillion national debt, will finally be in sight.

Hey, it worked for Rudy. Perhaps the Capitol should give it a try. Call it budget reform, Gotham style.

Bill Wilson is the President of Americans for Limited Government. You can follow Bill on Twitter at @BillWilsonALG.

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