President Barack Obama deserves two cheers for his new call to use the latest technology to make the federal government operate more efficiently.
Two cheers, because the president’s sensible message about making government more consumer-friendly, flexible and transparent is contradicted by the way his administration’s aggressive regulatory actions too often trample on those goals.
First, the positives of the administration’s announcement. The president points to worthwhile actions federal departments have taken or are planning to incorporate through efficiency-producing information technology.
Examples include the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s use of Internet apps to allow hurricane victims to register for help; software that will allow people to track the status of applications they file with the federal government; and posting more than 75,000 sets of government data to a downloadable website.
Still, it’s ironic to contrast the president’s remarks about a “new management agenda” for the federal government with the heavy-handed way in which federal agencies exert enormous power and impose major costs on citizens and businesses through inflexible regulatory demands.
“Regulatory burdens on Americans increased by nearly $70 billion during President Obama’s first term in office, during which federal agencies imposed 131 new major regulations,” a recent report from the Heritage Foundation stated.
Omaha provides a key example. For years the city government made repeated requests to the Environmental Protection Agency for far more flexibility on implementation of the $2 billion sewer project — not that it be stopped, just that it be restructured pragmatically to be less financially burdensome. The administration’s consistent answer: “no.”
As a result, Omaha households and businesses are having to adopt a “new management agenda” to pay the dramatically higher utility bills that lie ahead.
Yes, in the modern era, government has a major role to play in protecting the general welfare. Congress is hardly blameless; its laws authorize ever-greater regulation. And Obama’s is by no means the first administration to wield vast regulatory power.
But that power needs to be wielded with a sense of proportion and responsibility — a theme too seldom voiced by our president.
The administration talks about the wonders of software in making government operate “smarter, faster and better.” That’s fine.
But the nation would be better served if the feds were just as enthusiastic about developing software and other tools to reduce government-imposed costs on the private economy.