Make the government accountable

Published 11:46 pm Monday, March 20, 2006

By By Tray Smith
Over the past week, Escambia Academy was visited by a committee representing the Southern Association of Colleges in Schools (SACS). The process, which takes place every five years, is intended to ensure that schools meet a list of standards set forth by the association, and that the diplomas those schools issue are worthy of recognition by colleges and universities. Escambia County public schools also go through SACS reviews.
But more than just putting on a nice show for the visiting committee, school faculties must exert a large amount of effort to ensure that their institutions are up to par for the SACS panel. All of this work translates into an accountable and safe institution for students and a rigorous academic program to help our children learn.
Over the past year, leaders in Congress have been calling for a similar review process to examine all entities of the federal government. Forcing federal bureaucracies to undergo a scrutinizing examination of all of their expenditures and programs will allow for us to identify budgetary items that have no justification for taxpayer support.
The process could be led by a Government Accountability Commission. The commission should be divided between members with government experience and members with experience in the more efficient private sector. It should be broken down into separate panels for separate agencies, and it should be structured to ensure that members on a panel reviewing a certain government department have experience in that area. For instance, a member of the panel reviewing the Department of Defense may be a former general. The members of the Committee and its panels should be nominated by the President and Congressional leaders of both parties. The committees should be re-established every five years to ensure that Government agencies maintain accountability. This structure would ensure that taxpayer dollars are not being wasted on programs that have little or no benefit to the general population. Every single entity of the federal government should be reviewed. Agencies such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, Public Broadcasting Service, Amtrak, and National Public Radio that have no public benefit would finally be forced to close or compete in the private sector.
When analyzing a program, a review panel should ask the following questions. Does this agency have a legitimate purpose? Does this agency efficiently use its budget to achieve that purpose? Is the purpose of this agency best fulfilled by a federal government entity, or would it be best left to the states, municipalities, or private sector? Do the activities of this agency result in a benefit to the taxpayers who finance it? Are the ways that the activities of this agency could be improved? If the answer to any of those questions is no, then that agency could be terminated, overhauled, or outsourced to a private contractor. Similarly, when the SACS committee leaves a school, it will either grant it accreditation or place it on probation. It will also leave a list of recommendations for school improvement
After the panels have completed their reviews of each department, their recommendations would be submitted to the commission, which would compile all of the suggestions of each panel into a single report. That report would be submitted to the President for any altercations he may choose to make, and then it would go to Congress for a mandatory up or down vote.
This past week, we were further reminded of the need to cut spending. The Senate was forced into vote on an increase in the federal debt limit to $9 trillion. That translates to $30,000 dollars for every person in the United States. The debt limit is the highest amount of debt the treasury can accumulate in order to cover federal expenditures. It was formerly set at $8.2 trillion, but it had to be increased in order to avoid a default on U.S. obligations.
The very same day, the Senate passed a budget blue print that made clear Congress's lack of intention to reduce spending and increased expenditures for fiscal year 2007 by $12 billion. Though the bill is not final, it represents the weakness of America's legislators to make tough spending cuts. If we cannot trust our politicians to eliminate wasteful spending, could we trust such a committee? Maybe not, but we have nothing to lose. Something must be done. That is the bottom line.
Tray Smith is a freshman at Escambia Academy. He writes a political column for the Atmore Advance. He can be reached for contact His column appears weekly.

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