Politicians sometimes say government should be run like a business. But for one simple reason it never will be: it’s not a business.
Government agencies don’t need to satisfy customers or make a profit to stay in existence. But government can still use some of the methods of accountability practiced by private enterprise. And Congress deserves a pat on the back for doing something in this vein. In 1990 Congress required each executive agency and department to be audited and account for the money they’ve spent.
Now the results are in and the picture isn’t pretty. Out of the top 24 federal agencies, only half of them had sound financial statements. The White House spin machine boasted that there was some progress by several agencies, but Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee, self-limited to two terms in the U.S. Senate, wasn’t in such a celebratory mood. He’s not happy that half the agencies can’t tell the American people what they did with our money. The Departments of Education, Justice, Treasury, Agriculture, Defense, Housing and Urban Development, the EPA, Agency for International Development and the Office of Personnel Management have some explaining to do.
Congress was right to require real-world accounting practices. Now Congress needs to follow through by requiring real-world accountability. Agencies shouldn’t get more money unless they can tell us what happened to the last several billion dollars they spent. T
his is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.