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07/14/2013

Compassion vs. Incompetence


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There is much discussion in Congress and the media over the food stamp program.  Should it be part of the agriculture bill - or not? That is one question on the table.  Of interest - those who have concern about separation of the two fear the agriculture constituencies on their own are not strong enough to support farm programs.  Those who worry about the food stamp program worry if it stands alone, the eligibility increases, along with the accompanying cost of the program will stand out in such a way that taxpayers will pay too much attention.  No one asks, what problem will be solved by dividing the two?  My argument here is not whether the bill should be divided.  My focus is on the food stamp program (SNAP). 

Should SNAP be cut - if so how much?  Are the eligibility standards too weak because almost half of America seems to be eligible?  Or is our economy really so bad that half of America cannot afford to buy food for their families?   Reporting of abuse by recipients within the program is rampant.  The amount and the cost of abuse is reaching urban legend status.

There is no doubt in my mind that Americans are compassionate  and want to provide support for those who need "temporary" assistance.   We applaud meeting these needs.  We find it unacceptable for Americans, particularly American children being hungry.  We have concern for children and their families abroad too, but that's a topic for another day.

Is the problem the program and it's ever escalating cost?  Or is the problem an incompetent government unable to effectively administer the program?  Based on my experience in government, I submit it is not the program or it's beneficiaries. It is the inability of government to administer the program - to properly test for eligibility, to provide funds and then to provide oversight to prevent and punish abuse.  Results of this incompetence are twofold -  the bloated bureaucracy that pretends to administer the program protects itself and stays in place with ever increasing costs while the people who need help see the availability and amount of assistance shrink drastically.

The so-called "fight" in Congress is a political argument about how much to cut. Not a word is spoken in debate or written in the law demanding that the program be managed!   So while the self righteous members of Congress shout at one another -  "lack of compassion" versus "stop the abuse"......the clock keeps running making more people eligible and providing fewer funds to support them.  The very people who are in need are sacrificed because the bureaucracy cannibalizes the money intended to help them. 

When will we demand competence in management in our government?

It is not too much to expect that people be held accountable for their performance.  That hiring and firing (a foreign concept in government) be done according to who shows up for work, who is willing and able to make a decision and stand by it, and who looks at the processes and tries to make improvements?

This program is just one of many - perhaps thousands of programs that simply are not managed.  People come to work everyday - even if their program no longer receives any funding - and try to maintain the status quo.  The unstated goal is to keep their jobs.  Let's stop only looking at programs and start looking at administrative costs...does anyone have the courage to lead this effort?   Members of Congress should be asking "What problem are we trying to solve?"  

The first answer to the the problem of too much spending resulting in too high taxes is a review of the bureaucracy and a demand for limiting administrative costs.   To those who provide anecdotal stories about people receiving assistance, pointing fingers at those "lacking compassion", the most compassionate answer is to demand the money in the program be given to the people who are eligible, not used  to increase salaries and provide benefits and bonuses for the ever increasing numbers of people who are paid to administer it. 

 

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