April 11, 2011

What Parts of the Government Should be Permanently Furloughed?


By Peter Galbraith

At the end of the Cold War, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, my friend and one-time boss, proposed eliminating the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA, he said, told us everything we needed to know about the Soviet Union, except that it was going to disappear. This omission led to a trillion dollars in unnecessary defense expenditures in the 1980s -- and that was when a trillion dollars was considered to be a lot of money. Moynihan also noted that CIA analysts -- taking at face value East Germany's implausible valuation of its currency at par with that of the West -- once declared that East Germany had a higher standard of living than the Federal Republic. The Agency seemed not to notice that there was no East-bound traffic across the Wall. More recently, the CIA contributed to a trillion-dollar decision to invade Iraq when it asserted Saddam Hussein's possession of non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

The CIA includes many very smart people, some of whom take enormous risks for a country. But I would urge caution about blindly accepting its conclusions. As a Russian-speaking high school student, I spent 11 weeks driving through the Soviet Union, staying at campgrounds with ordinary Russians. The country I saw was no competitor for the United States, and this simple on-the-ground experience better informed my view of Soviet power than the highly classified CIA analysis to which I had access as a government official. As ambassador to Croatia during the Balkan Wars, I made extensive use of CIA intelligence and analysis. But, at the key moment, the CIA grossly over-estimated the military capabilities of the Serbian side. They had never been to the Serb-held parts of Croatia or Bosnia, and I had. Fortunately, the Clinton administration did not rely on the CIA's analysis, and we were able to negotiate an end to the Croatian and Bosnian Wars.

The CIA does valuable work and I would not shut it downInstead, I would urge skepticism about some of its conclusions. Based on past experience, this would save far more money than is at stake in the current budget battles.

Peter W. Galbraith is Former U.S. ambassador to Croatia and former U.N. Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan.

The Defense Establishment

By Thomas E. Ricks

West Point
The Naval Academy
The Air Force Academy
The Army War College
The Naval War College (except the strategy department)
The Air War College
10 percent of all generals' jobs
10 percent of all civilian jobs in the Defense Department
25 percent of all current contractors' jobs
50 percent of all consulting contracts
75 percent of congressional staffs

Thomas E. Ricks is Senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and blogger forForeign Policy.


By Danielle Pletka

My nominee not to come back is the U.S. Agency for International Development. Created as a temporary agency in the 1950s and formalized in 1961 as USAID, it lingers on having spent a fortune with results that are so little commensurate with outlays, it is stunning. Billions in Egypt, and yet there are few democratic institutions -- because that wasn't part of the mission. Ditto Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Tunisia, and Lebanon.

Yes, there is the terrific Office of Transitional Initiatives that has stood out. But overall, too many USAID officials over the years have refused to prioritize what America prioritizes: freedom, markets, rule of law. (They'll tell you that's because of congressional earmarks, but it's not true.) Too many have viewed their agency as a charity, not to be sullied by policy demands or U.S. interests. Too many care only about outlays and not about performance, metrics, and success. For USAID, spending has been job one. Achieving, less so. Of course there are great people at the agency who work for mediocre salaries in tough parts of the world. Then again, there are many in wonderful, private charitable organizations that do the same. USAID should be rolled into the State Department completely. The mission that matters -- emergency aid, humanitarian priorities -- would continue, and the rest would be carried out in accordance with the policies and priorities of the president of the day.

Danielle Pletka is vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

Veterans Affairs

By Andrew Exum

This is going to read as being mildly heretical since I am myself a veteran and also happen to think the folks at the Veterans Affairs Administration do a great job. But as veterans from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam depart this Earth, we are likely to be left with a much smaller group of veterans who, thanks to the life-saving technologies developed prior to and during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, might need less care in terms of quantity but more specialized care. So it might make sense to get rid of the old brick-and-mortar VA of the 20th century and replace it with something more akin to an HMO that allows veterans of this generation to make use of the best care available to them in our nation's private health care system.

Andrew Exum is a fellow at the Center for a New American Security at blogger at Abu Muqawama.

Ground Forces

By Benjamin H. Friedman

We could do without much of the nearly $700 billion we annually spend in the name of defense. First on the chopping block should be the Army and Marine Corps. Even counterinsurgency enthusiast Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that we are unlikely to soon repeat our nation-building misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Shedding our tendency to conflate counterterrorism and occupational warfare would allow us to reverse the recent growth in the ground forces, saving almost $ 9 billion annually, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Actually, as Chris Preble and I write in a recent Cato Institute report, we should go further, cutting roughly one-third from those services, saving almost $300 billion in the next decade. On top of these initial savings, this cut would discourage us from wasting blood and treasure in fighting other people's civil wars.

Benjamin H. Friedman is a research fellow in defense and homeland security studies at the Cato Institute.

The Farm Service Agency

By Michael Clemens

Let's cut part -- not all -- of the Farm Service Agency (FSA) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Though it does other useful things, each year the FSA spends $10 to $30 billion of taxpayers' money on outright cash gifts to farms, in good times and bad. These gifts, owing more to the farm lobby's power than to clear economic need, harm U.S. taxpayers, U.S. food consumers, and overseas food producers.

Michael Clemens is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development

Missile Defense

By Joseph Cirincione

Cut the Missile Defense Agency. The military services would do a better job determining what they need, what works, and how much to spend. The MDA functions primarily as an in-house lobbyist for systems the services have not asked for and do not need. We could save half of the over $10 billion budgeted this year for missile defense by eliminating this redundant agency and the programs it promotes.

Joseph Cirincione is president of the Ploughshares Fund.

Mideast Peace Envoys

By Stephen M. Walt

I'll nominate Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell and his "peacekeeping" entourage, which don't seem to have accomplished anything (and may have made things worse). I believe I blogged that it was time for him to resign more than a year ago, and nothing has happened since to change my mind on that score.

Stephen M. Walt is Robert and Renee Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University and blogger for Foreign Policy.

Don't cut, expand

By Michael Lind

The premise of the question is wrong. While there may be a few small, wasteful discretionary programs, in general the federal government is too small, not too large, and should be expanded. 

At the price of inefficiency, things which could be done more simply and efficiently by the federal government have been delegated to the states or subsidized private corporations. For example, hybrid federal-state programs like Medicaid and unemployment insurance are threatened by unstable state revenues, unlike purely federal programs like Social Security. Tax-favored private retirement savings programs like IRAs and 401k's are riskier than Social Security and allow brokers to fleece unsuspecting clients with their fees. These programs should be shrunk and Social Security should be expanded. Medical cost inflation threatens both the efficient Medicare program and the dysfunctional, employer-based health insurance sector. The solution is cost controls, not rationing access to health care by Americans.

In a rational country, the federal government would take over functions that never should have been shared with the states or off-loaded onto the private sector. Higher federal taxes would be offset somewhat by lower state taxes and the abolition of tax subsidies for private insurance and private retirement savings.

In short, the federal government needs to be strengthened and expanded, not vandalized and gutted.