• Goodbye, Money-Sucking Empty Buildings, Hello, Better Government?

    American taxpayers are forking over $1.7 billion a year just to maintain empty federal buildings.

    Each year, 12 agencies run 20 programs to study invasive species, to the tune of $1.4 billion a year.

    Leaders of the Government Transformation Initiative Coalition, teaming up with members of Congress, want to change that.

    They’re behind the Government Transformation Act, a bill sponsored by Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., in the House and soon to drop in the Senate, creating a commission to combine or eliminate redundant and wasteful federal programs and agencies.

    “We have to honor the American people,” Steve Goodrich, CEO at the Center for Organizational Excellence and one of the coalition’s leaders, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

    The coalition has some experience in fiscal scrutiny, with other leadership members including David Walker, a former Government Accountability Office head, and Barry Melancon, president at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

    But the trick, of course, as with anything in Washington, is making a massive overhaul of the federal government a reality. Ever so often, a new group says it has plans to fundamentally transform the way Washington works, but change comes incrementally, if at all.

    In 2010 for example, President Barack Obama created the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, aka the Simpson-Bowles Commission, to shore up the United States’ fiscal future. But, that committee’s members couldn’t reach marshal enough internal support to report its findings to Congress. Fiscal reform supporters applauded the commission’s work, but it went basically nowhere.

    Last year, CTI worked on similar legislation, and it failed to gain Congress’ approval. Supporters say this attempt could be different.

    The bill requires Congress to take an up-or-down vote on any recommendations-turned legislation from the commission within three days. That would “force the hand of Congress,” as Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, put it.

    Plus, the commission would have several years’ worth of reports from the Government Accountability Office on duplicative programs.

    “This is really something that did not exist until five years ago,” said Thomas Schatz, president of Citizens against Government Waste. His group favors the bill’s concept, even though it’ll be tricky to accomplish, he said.

    The success or failure of the commission with a $16 annual budget and a proposed six-year authorization rides on the people appointed, Ellis said.

    “It’ll depend somewhat on who gets appointed,” Ellis said.

    As it stands, the proposed commission would “be an arm of Congress,” Goodrich said, made up of seven members — four appointed by leaders in the House and Senate, and three appointed by the president.

    The members are supposed to be “individuals with recognition for their expertise in agencies, efficiency, waste reduction, finance and economics,” the legislation says, and can’t be a current government employee or lawmaker.

    On top of that, no more than three of the seven members can be registered under the same party. So, by default, the composition has to be three Republicans, three Democrats, and one political independent or other third-party identifier.

    But, four people constitutes a quorum on the commission, meaning one party could run the show and come up with proposals Congress votes down.

    The proposal has other challenges, too. CTI leaders say the goal is to pair down programs and costs, but the proposed bill’s language is broad.

    Members are supposed to “review work” of federal agencies, “analyze organizational practices and management challenges of federal agencies and make recommendations,” and “assess federal programs for economy, efficiency, and effectiveness,” the bill says. The language doesn’t mention specific reforms to tackle.

    Plus, any savings  produced by the commission probably won’t end up in taxpayers’ pockets. Those savings, Goodrich said, will be redirected to the U.S. Department of Treasury, probably to help pay down the ballooning national debt.

    It’s a behemoth of a task, but Ellis said more efficiency is better than none, even if past attempts to do something like this have failed.

    ‘That shouldn’t stop us from trying again,” Ellis said.

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