Main menu

How bureaucrats deal with budget crises

This is a true story from almost 40 years ago, but it may be subject to some memory lapses and faulty recollections of facts on my part. I tell the story now because I think people need to understand why it is that government is so bad at controlling spending, especially now that spending is so out of control and deficits are approaching unimaginable levels.

Background: I was a young LTJG in the Coast Guard from 1972-75, and I was stationed in San Francisco as the Deputy Director of the 12th District Coast Guard Auxiliary. Sometime during that period, I can't remember exactly when, there was a federal budget crisis and the solution was to cut all federal budgets by 10% or so across the board. As it happened, when the 12th District command called a meeting of all division heads to develop a plan to implement this sizeable budget cut, I was the stand-in for my commanding officer because he was out of town.

Perhaps it was the Admiral who addressed the meeting, but I can't be sure. Nevertheless, his plan was straightforward. Instead of asking each division head to shoulder their share of the budget cut burden, the plan was to take the entire cut out of the Search and Rescue division's budget, leaving them with almost nothing. As of a certain date, the Coast Guard would suspend all search and rescue operations due to the budget cut.

The plan had an unspoken assumption that was explained to those of us present at the meeting: the public hue and cry that would result from such a draconian cut to emergency services would be huge, and it would likely persuade Congress to exempt the Coast Guard from the across-the-board budget cuts. And so it was. The Coast Guard never had to take that 10% cut, even though my budget had plenty of room to cut, and I imagine that many other departments and divisions could have taken a cut as well.

From that experience as well as others, I came to understand the difference between the public and the private sector. The private sector is all about survival: if your revenues drop, you have to cut your spending. The public sector is all about politics: your survival and prestige is a function of the size of your budget, so you never consent to a cut. Instead, you always ask for more and more spending authority, no matter what.

Filled Under:


Posting Komentar