All the hoopla around a federal government shutdown is baffling, as though the war waged on our own government only culminates into single events happening at precise moments. All the fiscal cliffs, debt ceilings, permanent tax cuts, federal government shutdowns — all of these “events” we continue to debate and celebrate — are mini-strokes compared to the real reason we find so much government waste when we look for it.
The real waste is time, and time is money.
In order to operate efficiently it is essential to plan and to execute plans properly. Without proper planning we waste money — other people’s money. So when every decision is made in the last minute (or after) and each plan is questioned instead of implemented, the dollars add up and it has a profound trickle down effect on local communities.
I’ve led an agency that has received government funding since before the Clinton Administration. Along with a number of other local and statewide nonprofit agencies, we provide an array of social services to the residents of Palm Beach County. The federal money we receive, either through the state or indirectly through the county, is based on how tax dollars are appropriated beginning Oct. 1 of each year by Congress.
A decade ago I knew how much funding our county would receive roughly six months before programs were to begin. Five years ago I could be relatively confident of the same information about three weeks in advance. In recent years, however, the final totals for federal funding for some programs are not known until four or five months into the year in which the services are provided. Meaning the provision of many services continue without signed contracts, or funding reimbursements, a third of the way into the year.
As you can imagine, that makes it difficult to plan what level of services can be provided to the community, but it also has an impact on the individuals who are served and forces entities providing services to take unnecessary risks. As a result, many of us who play in the public pool must often make decisions based on faith in the U.S. government. And if you’ve been watching the polls recently, you know that faith is fading fast and unnecessary government brinksmanship isn’t helping.
A large part of utilizing federal funding for social services includes community-planning components which require politicians at every level, publically noticed meetings, political processes and — often — volunteers who are civically-minded who want to be involved. History has proven fairness isn’t always a guarantee when it comes to government funding, so all this extra “stuff” is tolerated to steer government appropriations as fairly as possible. It makes running a business with ties to government inefficient and risky enough, and adding the time and energy for back and forth politicking isn’t helping business; it’s hurting business.
When I was growing up, I use to hear talk of “starving the beast” as a strategy to reduce the size of government. Underfunded programs would shrink until they rotted from the inside and fell apart. But what we are seeing right now is more of an outright abuse of the beast than a simple starvation.
The stalling has many government workers frozen in position, unable to negotiate political uncertainties, let alone plan for efficiency. Over the past few years the administrative components of providing services have become increasingly cumbersome as everyone scrambles to negotiate the new normal environment of government.
The posturing, the made up crises, the unnecessary filibusters, the cliffs and ceilings are a distraction. The main event has been in play the whole time, behind the scenes, inside our workforce. The effect keeps government and the businesses in business with government spinning instead of peddling forward.
The impact of these federal showdowns on our local communities is astounding and far exceeds the closing of national parks or whether or not you’ll be able to get a passport. These fights ultimately lead organizations to make rushed decisions, at the last minute, wasting time and money on bridges built purposefully to go nowhere.
If the people in Washington really want to reduce the deficit, balance the budget and save money, a good start would be to stop wasting our time.
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