Election over! Obama wins four more years - now what? It is time for serious governing by both parties, and the fiscal cliff looms. Now the politicians will have to think of solutions and deals quickly as the Thelma and Louise car speeds towards the end of the self-imposed cliff.
When this column was started almost two years ago, its aim was to take the best knowledge and experience available and find slices of doable and realistic solutions to the problems with the federal government and their contractors. Last January, we decided that a presidential election year is not a time to put out solutions to governmental problems because the election is all-consuming to Washington DC and its politicians. So, as I wrote in January:
[D]uring the course of writing weekly columns on fixing government, it has become more and more clear that any legislative and executive branch attempts to reform the system can be easily thwarted by the massive influence of money in the system. It has become obvious, more now than in the past, that the burgeoning problem of influence-peddling with money will doom real reform.
In this presidential election year, it is virtually impossible to expect serious governance from our elected and appointed officials in the federal government. Therefore, the Solutions column will spend the rest of this year, until the election, following the money that keeps realistic reform from succeeding and concentrate on exposing and explaining how self-dealing is the No. 1 problem that is preventing our government from working.
Now this column is back to the work of trying to present doable solutions to the new president and members of Congress that would make the government work better. The public sentiment over the years has been not so much anti-government but instead pro-making government work better.
A test for good government for the new administration will be to see if the new Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will continue to perform better at helping the victims of Hurricane Sandy under a new and professional administrator than it did during its abysmal and tragic performance in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. As readers of this column know, I was fortunate to have the wisdom of Leo Bosner, who worked on the front line of FEMA from 1979 to 2008, for a series of columns last year. His wise columns and advice on how FEMA worked through many administrations (which was made into a Truthout Reader e-book) and recently, on what FEMA needed to do about Hurricane Sandy, is one of the major elements I want this column to present.
Now, before you think that I was born yesterday, I have been working on exposing self-dealing and influence-peddling for 30 years, and I don't think that it will all disappear, especially with a split Congress. However, politicians will now be casting around for solutions to show they mean to change the government while claiming that it is the other party who is influence peddling.
In my 30 years of exposing fraud and pursuing reform, I have worked 20 of those years under a Republican president. Some reforms were accomplished; in fact, ironically, most of the reforms I helped to install regarding Pentagon spending and weapons testing in the 1980s under the Reagan administration were swept away by the Clinton administration because it gave the task of streamlining the Pentagon to the generals. But I do believe that Democrats want the government to work - even though they also are caught in the Washington money game - and are more open to reforming (not crippling) government programs.
So, I really believe that where there is chaos, there is opportunity. Right now, each party is trying to get its sea legs under this new dynamic change in government. The Republicans who had their hats handed to them on Tuesday are beginning to realize, like it or not, that the public wants their federal government to work. The public does not want it to be just a place for influential contributor companies to loot under the guise of privatization or budget cuts, weaken the program, and then claim it didn't work. The Democrats also realize that they need to govern and reform even their pet programs while avoiding crippling the role of those programs. And they all realize that there will be pressure to cut programs that are low achievers or full of cronyism.
It is senseless, however, to just go after various small and medium-sized programs in the federal government when there is a monster department that sucks up a huge amount of the federal money and has institutionalized itself to get almost unquestioned appropriations through all the past presidents. It is the Department of Defense (DoD), and this column has addressed so many of its problems that we made 39 of the columns into a Truthout Reader e-book on how to reform it. The DoD is what what military lingo would call a "target-rich environment," and it begs for real reform.
Whether they have been sincere or not, several presidents have dabbled in trying to reform, or even control, this monster department with its voracious but unauditable (the Pentagon's own sad term) spending. These attempts have gotten high marks from members of the public who want to support the troops but don't want $435 hammers. But the Pentagon and its contractors have a powerful grip on the US Treasury and the Congress because, unlike other departments, they can send up generals to Capitol Hill and scare the Congress and the public with every new bogeyman and claim that any cuts will hurt the troops. So, much of the reform is for show, and if they try to be serious about reform, the blowback is like trying to drink from a fire hose.
This administration has an opportunity, which it might have to take out of necessity, to tackle this department and make history by really getting control of the spending. Governor Romney had defense spending going up like a rocket to levels higher than any since the Korean war (see the scary chart in this past column) but the Obama administration still plans a steady increase in the defense budget, even though we spend more on defense than the rest of the world put together.
President Obama took on health care when no other president could and put in a plan that is far from perfect but greatly helps citizens (in 2014) who live with the fear of being denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions. If he would be willing to seriously take on the Pentagon AND its generals on the Pentagon's spending, bloat, cronyism, revolving-door contractors, needless privatization and its practice of fearmongering whenever cuts are mentioned, he will have also tackled a problem that no president has been able to dent. It is unrealistic to think that he can solve all the Pentagon's problems, but he can make a dent.
Over the years, I have been working on exposing and reforming many parts of government, including health care spending, but I keep getting pulled back to the DoD's enormous problems because I have past experience and knowledge. I also get drawn back because it is one of the largest and looming problems in our country, and it promises to swamp any efforts for us to do, as the president suggests, more nation-building at home.
So this Solutions column, with hopeful but realistic optimism, will continue to work with people inside and outside the federal government to make our federal government work. There are moneyed outside sources that will try to stop reform, but these same moneyed forces also tried to buy an election outright and failed. I welcome Truthout readers' suggestions and leads on all federal government problems, including the entrenched DoD.
I strongly believe that informed people can tackle making our government better, and if I didn't believe that, there are plenty of easier things I could do. But our country allows us to start anew every four years with a new presidential term, and this term has possible openings for some reform. We just have to find those cracks in the status quo's walls and take advantage of them. Reform requires eternal vigilance, and I knew that when I signed up to a career of expose and reform. So let's get started, and send me your suggestions and leads to dina[at]truthout.org.