November 21, 2017

Can Federal Agency Bloat be Reduced?

At the Daily Signal today, John York, a research assistant at the Heritage Foundation, reports on an executive order issued by President Donald Trump in March to spur a comprehensive reorganization of the executive branch.

York went on to explain:

"It instructed each federal department head to submit a plan to improve “efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability” by June 30. Think tanks and members of the general public were also encouraged to submit plans.

"The administration is now considering ways to combine and implement the best suggestions it received.

"While there is much the White House can do alone, thorough executive reorganization will eventually demand congressional action."

He then explains the need for executive branch reorganization:

"Reorganizing the executive bureaucracy is a critical step to draining the swamp, as Trump pledged to do on the campaign trail.

"Part of what makes the bureaucracy so unresponsive, ineffective, and profligate is its structure. Senseless fragmentation of authority, duplication of labor, and overlapping responsibility turns even the simplest functions of government into a veritable Rube Goldberg machine.

"Take, for instance, food safety inspection.

"Two agencies—the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Food and Drug Administration—share most of the responsibility for food safety inspection. The FDA inspects shelled eggs while the USDA inspects liquid, frozen, and dehydrated eggs.

"The FDA inspects all fish except catfish, which are under the USDA’s purview. Closed-faced sandwiches and bagel dogs are in the USDA’s bailiwick, while open-faced sandwiches and corndogs are left to the FDA.

"Such fragmentation, duplication, and overlap is a widespread problem. A 2017 Government Accountability Office report identified 395 examples of these structural problems. The Government Accountability Office estimates that if Congress addressed all such instances it identified, it would save the American taxpayer tens of billions of dollars."

The involvement of Congress is necessary, he says due to a 1983 Supreme Court decision.

In conclusion, York points out:

"Executive reorganization might not be the most scintillating policy item on the Trump administration and Congress’ docket. Substantive policy changes are bound to grab more headlines than wonky structural changes.

"But with Americans deeply divided over the proper size and role of government, executive reorganization is a way to realize significant savings without necessarily cutting popular services.

"Moreover, while most policy issues are mired by partisan division, a long-overdue makeover of the executive bureaucracy is a rare opportunity for bipartisanship."

Given all the growling we have done over the years about waste, fraud and abuse in the federal government, but based upon the work of Mr. York and Ms. Greszler, it seems the reorganization of  the executive branch is long overdue.

York and Rachel Greszler authored a richly footnoted, five-page Issue Brief (No. 4782, November 3, 2017), which you can access here.

Growls readers concerned about the efficient, effective and economic operations of the federal government are encouraged to engage their members of Congress. Contact information is available at the Library of Congress' Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County can contact:

  • Senator Mark Warner (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-2023
  • Senator Tim Kaine (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-4024
  • Representative Don Beyer (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

Be sure to ask for a written response. And tell them ACTA sent you.

November 20, 2017

Lower Taxes = Higher Economic Growth?

In a Washington Free Beacon article today, the conservative news website says that "states with lower taxes on business and personal income have higher economic growth." In addition, they note that "Americans are moving from high-tax states to those with no taxes and less spending."

According to Ali Meyer, who reported the story:

"States with lower taxes on businesses and personal income have higher economic growth, according to an economist at the American Legislative Exchange Council.

"Jonathan Williams, an economist at the council, spoke at an event on the Hill Monday and used two states, Kansas and North Carolina, to illustrate how raising and cutting taxes can affect the local state economy in either a positive or negative way.

"Williams explained that while many try to suggest Kansas's economic difficulty has been due to tax cuts they have implemented in the past, the data suggest otherwise.

"Based on our ranking of rich states, poor states of economic competitiveness, Kansas started out about 10 years ago at 29th in America," Williams explained. "After tax reform, about 2013, it bolted up to number 11."

"Additionally, data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis find that from 2012 to 2015 Kansas had annualized job growth of 1.3 percent per 10,000 residents.

"Kansas trailed the national averages in economic growth for years before the 2012 reforms," Williams said. "That was one of the primary drivers for tax reform in the first place."

"But since this time, Kansas has implemented more tax increases and has since fallen from 11th place.

"After subsequent tax increases they've fallen … way down to 26 now in terms of economic outlook," Williams said. "So you see a see-saw effect based on taxes and refusal to cut spending."

Meyer also observed:

"Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said the left tries to use Kansas as a case study for why taxes should not be cut. Instead, he says, the states with no income tax and the states with the highest taxes should be compared.

"How is it Kansas collapsed by cutting their personal income tax but the states that have no income tax are all thriving?" Norquist asked. "Then you compare the nine states with no income tax and the nine states with the highest income tax both in terms of economic growth and population moving in or moving out of the states, it's clear that higher spending states people move out of and move to lower taxes and lower spending."

In conclusion, she writes:

"Similarly, Williams points out that Kansas's budget issues were not a result of tax reform but were a result of increased government spending.

"Over the years, politicians created a budget failure by refusing to match the tax cuts with meaningful spending control or broadening the tax base," Williams says. "For every one percent in population growth, spending increased by nearly five percent in real terms."

Meyer includes a link to the article, "Distinguishing Myth from Reality: The Kansas Tax Reform Effort," by Jonathan Williams and Joel Griffith, posted at the American Legislative Exchange Council website. The Williams and Griffith article includes several additional resources. For an additional discussion of what federal policymakers can learn from the Kansas and North Carolina tax reform efforts, see here.

Growls readers concerned about the current tax reform effort working its way through Congress (see our November 17 Growls), and its effect on economic growth, are encouraged to engage their members of Congress. Contact information is available at the Library of Congress' Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County can contact:

  • Senator Mark Warner (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-2023
  • Senator Tim Kaine (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-4024
  • Representative Don Beyer (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

Be sure to ask for a written response. And tell them ACTA sent you.

November 19, 2017

Financial Reforms Needed at U.S. Postal Service

At the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) blog last Thursday, Pete Sepp, NTU President, wrote that "deteriorating post service finances make reforms more urgent," saying specifically:

"This week, the U.S. Postal Service announced another immense year-end loss of $2.7 billion in its 2017 fiscal year report. The financial statement rekindles the alarms expressed by the nonpartisan National Taxpayers Union (NTU) about the implications that the Postal Service’s failures to address its dire finances may have for the taxpaying public."

Below is Sepp's statement in response to the Postal Service's 2017 financial statements:

“The latest U.S. Postal Service fiscal report details yet another year in red, and brings the Service’s total losses to a staggering $65.1 billion since 2007 when the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA) was signed into law. These trends and accumulation of unfunded liabilities have extended the threat of a taxpayer bailout of the USPS over the long-term. This is especially concerning as lawmakers have offered ill-considered postal reform efforts that aim to shift employee benefit liabilities to Medicare, restrict efforts to achieve cost savings, and usher further experimental services to market that could unfairly compete with private-sector firms.

"NTU remains concerned that taxpayers could be on the hook for a massive federal intervention that will cover the Service's debts or future liabilities. Time and again we have warned that the Service's complaints over pre-funding, and preferential regulatory treatment compared to private delivery firms, are masking fundamental operational and managerial issues that cannot be resolved without greater oversight and accountability.

"Reversing the Postal Service’s dangerous course will depend heavily on structural remedies to improve cost and revenue transparency of all services, and better performance on letter mail service for all postal customers. Achieving accountability and sustainability on this way will be critical for Members of Congress and for the recently nominated, and soon-to-be-confirmed, individuals chosen by the Trump Administration to lead the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors.”

Visit Sepp's post to use the several links he provides for additional information, including the report of its FY 2017 fiscal results.

Growls readers concerned about the continued taxpayer support of the U.S. Postal Service are encouraged to engage their members of Congress. Contact information is available at the Library of Congress' Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County can contact:

  • Senator Mark Warner (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-2023
  • Senator Tim Kaine (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-4024
  • Representative Don Beyer (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

Be sure to ask for a written response. And tell them ACTA sent you.

November 18, 2017

Arlington Public Schools Continue as Most Expensive

The Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE) published their FY 2018 WABE Guide November 1, and once again, the Arlington Public Schools continued their position as having the highest cost-per-pupil among Washington's school districts.

According to the APS website, "The Washington Area Boards of Education guide is a statistical report prepared annually which compares area school districts’ salaries, budget, cost per pupil, and class sizes." Further, the WABE Guide points out, "Uniform formulas were developed by the WABE committee for consistency area wide. These numbers are comparable; however, the cost per pupil reported here may differ from that reported in individual districts' budget documents or other reports."

Below are the FY2017 and FY 2018 cost-per-pupil for the WABE school districts from the "approved" budgets:

                                                                FT 2017 / FY 2018

  • Arlington County                    $18,957 / $19,340
  • Falls Church                             18,418 / 18,219
  • Alexandria                                17,008 /17,099
  • Montgomery County                15,975 / 16,030
  • Fairfax County                          14,432 / 14,767
  • Prince George's County           13,869 / 13,816
  • Loudoun County                       13,121 / 13,688
  • Manassas City                            13,112 / 12,846
  • Manassas Park City                   11,158 / 11,242
  • Prince William County              10,981 /11,222

Imagine if the Arlington School Board was mandated to operate the Arlington Public Schools at the same cost-per-pupil as in Fairfax County. The approximate difference ($4,500) for APS' 26,190 students during the FY 2018 school year means the Superintendent would have about $117,000,000 to work with. What would he do? A better question might be what are Arlington County taxpayers getting in return for that $117,000,000?

Growls readers who are concerned about the cost of public education in the Arlington Public Schools are encouraged to engage the Arlington School Board. Just click-on the link below:

  • Call the School Board office at (703) 228-6015

And tell them ACTA sent you.

November 17, 2017

Differences in House and Senate Tax Bills in 1 Chart

At today, Adam Michel, a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, compares the House and Senate versions of the current Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

In his lede, Michel writes, "The House has now passed its version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The Senate is still working on the final details of its reform package. The Senate plan improves on the House bill in many places and misses important opportunities elsewhere."

He provides the following chart:


Growls readers concerned about the changes being contemplated in this latest tax reform legislation are encouraged to engage their members of Congress. Contact information is available at the Library of Congress' Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County can contact:

  • Senator Mark Warner (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-2023
  • Senator Tim Kaine (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-4024
  • Representative Don Beyer (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

Be sure to ask for a written response. And tell them ACTA sent you.

November 16, 2017

Arlington County's Employee Turnover Rate Averages 6.1%

In preparing to adopt the FY 2018 budget last winter, one County Board member requested a summary "for the past 5 years (plus FY 2017 to date) of the attrition by year for selected departments. Specifically, he asked for the number of staff in the department departing, percentage of the department, and the reason for the departure (either retirement or leaving for another job).

The personnel department (i.e., the Human Resources Department, HRD) provided the response, titled, "Attrition Data for Multiple Departments," Follow-up Topic Number B-7. HRD provided the following explanation to their data tables:

"The tables on the following pages summarize turnover for the past five years. It is important to note that the “staff count” are the employees in place as of June 30th of each year, not the authorized fte’s for the departments. The attrition totals, percentages, and employee counts are the total for the fiscal year.

"Other than retirement, employee reasons for termination include new opportunities, relocation, and return to school. Exact numbers not available for the non-retirement reasons. Attrition, typically called turnover, measures the rate at which employees leave an organization. The industry standard is to base the rate for a year on actual employee count at a point in time."

For the almost 5 2/3 years beginning with FY 2012, the attrition, or turnover rate, for employee departures that were NOT due to retirement was 6.1%. By department, the turnover rates were:

  • CPHD -- 7.0%
  • DES -- 6.0%
  • DHS -- 7.4%
  • DPR -- 4.4%
  • DTS -- 5.2%
  • FIR -- 3.3%
  • POL -- 4.1%

By comparison, Fairfax County's FY 2017 proposed budget makes the following observation (Volume 1, page 30):

"A critical area that continues to be monitored and addressed is “Permanent Employee Turnover Rate,” which decreased from 10.1 percent in FY 2005 to 3.89 percent in FY 2014, which clearly underscores the County’s efforts to recruit, retain and reward high performing staff." (emphasis added)

The county continued in the budget document by pointing out, "The County’s challenge continues to be to find ways to attract and retain highly qualified staff in a competitive job market." It's also true, however, the decrease can be explained in terms of declining opportunities for alternative employment and/or as increasing compensation (salaries/fringe benefits) provided by Fairfax County.

For more information on employee turnover, see the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, which performs a job openings and labor turnover survey (JOLTS), and "is currently pursuing research on the number of job openings, hires, and separations by firm size. These estimates may help to better explain some of the internal dynamics of the labor market."

The latest BLS economic news release, dated November 7, 2017, about the job openings and labor turnover summary (JOLTS) is available. It specifically notes, "Within separations, the quits rate and the layoffs and discharges rate were little changed at 2.2 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively."

As a recent article last month in The Balance points out, the cost of employee turnover can be considerable.

Growls readers concerned about Arlington County's employee turnover rate are encouraged to engage the Arlington County Board. Take a couple of minutes to make your views known to the Arlington County Board. Just click-on the link below:

  • Call the County Board office at (703) 228-3130

And tell them ACTA sent you.

UPDATE (11/19/17): Several edits were made based upon Frank Emerson's suggestions, including a spelling error in the subject.

November 15, 2017

Out-of-Control Public Art Spending? What else is new?

 In his Editor's Notebook blog today, Scott McCaffrey takes Arlington County poohbahs to task for its "out of control public art."

Here are the for details:

"It would take more time than I have, or readers are willing to set aside, to detail the latest public-art contretemps the Arlington County government is wading through.

"The details are found in Item #24 of the Arlington County Board’s meeting set for Saturday, in which $200,000 will be taken from a fund designed for public improvements in Rosslyn and transferred to support a public-art project that is part of JBG Co.’s Central Place development.

"Originally, the whole shebang wasn’t going to cost the gub’mint anything – JBG was slated to pay $750,000 into the government’s public-arts fund, which presumably would have covered the cost of any project local officials wanted to put in place there. But now, with the cost of the proposal up to nearly $1.3 million (!), the county government is on the hook for part of the extra share.

"Funny how that works.

"County poobahs like to say that there is “no net taxpayer support” for projects like these, since the fund being tapped was paid into by previous developer contributions. I will counter with this: Just because taxpayers don’t fund it directly doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an impact on us down the road. That $200,000 going to this project is $200,000 that could have been spent on something else. It is all government funds, and as Homer Simpson once said on a different topic: “red M&Ms, green M&Ms: they all end up the same color in the end.”)

"From the perspective of an outsider, it appears to be another example of “mission creep” in the county government’s public-arts efforts, which over the years have scored as many misses as hits in providing something nice for the public."

We've growled several times over the years about the county's public art program, most recently on February 15, 2004 after the grand poohbahs flushed between $2.0 million and $3.0 million at the sewage treatment plant. In that Growls, we gave the County Manager a "thump on the head" for suggesting that amount of taxpayer dollars was "beyond a basic utilitarian approach." Does it seem like the inmates are running the public art program? It sure seems like it.

If your looking for additional details about this daffy deal, they are in the 17-page County Manager's report to the County Board, and is part of the so-called Consent Agenda (Agenda Item #24, November 18, 2017).

Growls readers are encouraged to engage the Arlington County Board with your concerns about the out of control public art program. Take a couple of minutes to make your views known to the Arlington County Board. Just click-on the link below:

  • Call the County Board office at (703) 228-3130

And tell them ACTA sent you.

November 2017
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Items in Growls are written by individual ACTA members and do not necessarily represent the views of the Arlington County Taxpayers Association, Inc. Please send comments about Growls to The Growl Meister