Talking Points on Government Reform #1: A Plea for More Government Oversight

Only 29 percent of the public says it has “a great deal/quite a lot” of confidence in Congress.1 It’s no wonder. Congress over the years has let our federal government grow to huge, unmanageable proportions.

* Congress appears poised to approve a Medicare prescription drug benefit that the Heritage Foundation calls an “impending disaster”2 – a disaster not because our best minds lack the ability to design a financially sound comprehensive health insurance program for seniors, but because, after years of dawdling, Congress has decided to rush the job. The fast-tracked proposal would cost at least $400 billion over ten years (likely much more); will end much of the employer-based drug coverage 34 percent of all seniors now enjoy;3 will cause poor Americans to subsidize rich Americans and, as its actual price tag is unknown but astronomical, will lurch Medicare into insolvency years ahead of predictions and possibly lead to drug rationing.4 Yet the Senate Finance Committee approved it only 48 hours after its major provisions were unveiled, allowing no serious contemplation. The bill may be law within a month.

* Then there’s the Pentagon, specifically the Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ship. Building the ship – which is designed to maneuver in shallow waters near shorelines – is a worthy endeavor, but one wonders if the Pentagon’s proverbial right hand knows what its left is doing. The Navy has awarded a $15 million contract to a defense contractor to evaluate the performance of composite materials in naval vessels,5 yet this same contractor, Northrop Grumman, is seeking a contract to build the LCS from composite material. For the sake of national security, let alone the up to $15 billion taxpayer dollars the ship may cost,6 one hopes the Pentagon is conscious of the potential conflict of interest.

A modest suggestion. If Congress adopted biennial budgeting – i.e., approved a two-year budget every other year instead of one year budgets every year – it could devote one year out of every two scrutinizing federal programs and carefully considering how to improve any that are ailing. It would have more time to consider how to modernize Medicare while saving it from insolvency; to scrutinize the federal procurement process and to correct weaknesses relating to national security.


1 Frank Newport, “Military, Police Top Gallup’s Annual Confidence in Institutions Poll: Little Change in Confidence In Newspapers; Church Enjoys Modest Rebound in Confidence,” Gallup News Service, The Gallup Organization, Washington, D.C., June 19, 2003, available at as of June 19, 2003.

2 Stuart M. Butler, Ph.D., “The Medicare Drug Bill: An Impending Disaster for all Americans,” WebMemo #293, The Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C., June 13, 2003, available at as of June 19, 2003.

3 Robert E. Moffit, Ph.D., “What’s Wrong with the Senate Drug Bill,” WebMemo #297, The Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C., June 18, 2003, available at as of June 19, 2003.

4 Ibid.

5 John Surrat, “Northrop Grumman Awarded $15M Contract,” Southeast Mississippi/, May 2, 2003, available at as of June 18, 2003.

6 Bruce Alpert and Bill Walsh, “On the Hill: News From the Louisiana Delegation in the Nation’s Capital,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 15, 2003, available at as of June 18, 2003.
7 Tanya N. Ballard, “Rumsfeld: Defense Needs Personnel Reform to Manage Better,” Daily Briefing, June 4, 2003, available at as of June 17, 2003.

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