The Campaign Spot

Looking at John McCain’s Thoughts on Government Reform

Campaign circumstances all but ensured that John McCain’s speech on government reform was doomed to get almost no attention compared to his tussle with Romney and the immigration bill, but there’s some good stuff in there worth further discussion on the campaign trail.

The good: McCain, like Hillary, called for information on every step of contracts and grants to be posted on the Internet in plain and simple English. “We’re not going to hide anything behind accounting tricks and bureaucratic doubletalk that a linguist with a PhD in accounting couldn’t decipher.” 

I give McCain props for talking about an issue many on the right don’t spend a lot of time on: the wasteful mess that passes for our defense procurement system. “Problems in defense acquisition are well known: undefined or poorly defined and ever-changing requirements for weapons systems; long delays in delivery, cost overruns, and a lack of accountability for recurring failures. More than 100 studies have identified the same problems over and over again for many years.”

 

McCain got a little self-righteous in lambasting lawmakers who prioritized reelection over national security, bureaucrats who put individual priorities over defense priorities, and defense contractors “more concerned with winning the next contract than performing on the current one.” Still, to fix a problem, you first have to recognize a problem, and many other candidates have glossed over this issue.

 

McCain added, “When a company [with a government contract] delivers the promised products and controls costs, it should be rewarded. When it doesn’t, it must pay the price in its bottom line.” Great concept, but it will be really tough to enact.

 

On government waste, McCain said something every Republican presidential candidate should make a pledge: “If programs have a good record, and serve a purpose that the private sector can’t, they will receive continued funding. But we’re not going to spend more money on them just because they have been around for a long time. If they’re not giving Americans good value for their tax dollars, they’re going to have to change or they’re going out of business.”

 

Finally, in a useful antidote to the Wal-Mart bashing on the campaign trail, McCain pointed out, “Wal-Mart responded more quickly to the victims of Katrina than did the federal government.”

 

The so-so: McCain seems to think giving every inspector general in every department of government direct access to the heads of their departments and cabinet secretaries will make a significant difference. Eh, we’ll see.

 

McCain wants a Congressional Office of Public Integrity to investigate complaints of ethical violations by members and their staffs, but that seems like an institution whose worth would be determined by its staff and management: If you have fair-minded, diligent watchdogs, it would be effective; if you get partisan, lazy, or nitpicky staff, you would end up with something arguably worse that the current situation.

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