The Most Essential Government Function

The news among government workers and politicians swirls first around a possible shutdown of “non-essential” functions, and conditional on that, around proposed cuts to the remainder of the 2011 fiscal-year budget that would, in their most extreme scenarios, force assorted closures and furloughs in storm-warning and forecasting services. Will the worst-case scenario come to pass? Likely not…but the NWS Employees’ Organization’s discussion of it is a needed check-and-balance against the opposite, “we don’t need storm warnings” type of ignorant extreme the other way. Ultimately, something in the middle is the most probable outcome.

As a card-carrying Republican (who has accused many a Republican politician of being too liberal fiscally), I’m about as much of a fiscal conservative and deficit hawk as anybody can be rationally. The difference is that I see the austerity blade as something to be wielded carefully, thoughtfully and meritoriously, instead of indiscriminately or for political posturing.

One size does not fit all! Some government is more important, some less! Most governmental cutbacks in these situations are lazy, mindless, across-the-board proposals concocted by politicians and not experts, and as such, have no basis in value, function or merit at all. As such, they throw out both the bathwater and the baby.

For more in-depth discussion on this topic and how it applies to severe storm and hurricane watches and warnings, see the following invited post that I provided to the BLOG of jazz musician, keen writer, and fellow storm observer Bob Hartig: Protection of Life and Property: The Necessary Government Role.

Yes, my bare-bones litmus test for what’s worth keeping, if it has to come to that, is simple: protection of life and property. No governmental function is more basic or important. Protection of life and property should be the final straw, the last thing ever jeopardized.

We all need to make sacrifices, and this absolutely includes governmental agencies and employees. My salary freeze is one example, and I am NOT complaining about it in the face of even greater sacrifices being made by other hard-working Americans.

Below, I’ll state some examples of what would and wouldn’t pass my litmus test, which represents the extreme end (last resort) of what to handle in paring down the national debt. Most other folks’ standards for where to stop cutting actually seem far less stringent than mine. These are not all-inclusive, but instead represent examples being bantered to and fro at this time.

  1. SOLIDLY PASSES “LIVESAVING” LITMUS TEST: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, National Guard, Federal law enforcement (FBI, Secret Service, Border patrol, etc.,) National Weather Service forecasting centers and offices, DOA food and meat inspectors, NFS firefighting, NASA satellites, FAA air-traffic control, Federal courts, V.A. hospitals, Federal prisons, electric-power regulation and security
  2. PARTS DO, PARTS DON’T: These contain elements that are mission-critical when the last mission is protection of public safety; but also, contain large swaths of functions that are not absolutely necessary: NASA (except for defense, comms and weather satellites), National Forest Service (except fire-weather and firefighting), DoD procurement, DOA (outside food inspectors), DHS, CIA, HHS, DOT, DOE, EPA, FEMA, most foreign aid, Medicare/Medicaid (lots of waste and fraud to hack out!), NWS outside forecasting offices/centers, and NOAA outside the NWS. A very careful and precise knife needs to be used; critical and non-critical functions are often closely intermixed in these!
  3. NON-LIFESAVING FUNCTION (DOES NOT PASS TEST): These are “nice but not critically necessary” or simply aren’t clearly pertinent to imminent protection of taxpayers’ lives. A few of these I personally detest, others I strongly support and would hate to see them go…but again, these are not critical for life-saving. As such, they’re fair game… TARP bailouts, IRS, National Endowment for the Arts, National Public Radio, HUD, most of assorted welfare entitlements, UN representation, White House “czars”, most of Commerce outside NOAA, and the overwhelming majority of the Interior, Education and Labor Departments.

I can assure this: If the IRS were largely gone, that would mean we would have a simple, flat and largely automated taxing system, and that would be not only a money-saver for government but a fantastic cause for celebration!


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