President Obama is right that Congress doesn’t do much. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course. But the pen and phone strategy Obama proposed can be used for a lot of things. The president seems inclined to use it mostly to expand government. But the pen and phone can also shrink government and make it more accountable, as Wayne Crews and I explain over at RealClearMarkets:
Congress passed 72 laws in 2013, while agencies issued 3,659 rules and regulations—a 51 to one ratio. This disparity suggests two areas where a pen-and-phone strategy might do some good. First, increased government transparency about the nature of all these rules. Second, establishing something akin to a federal “Department of No” to reduce the bureaucracy’s output relative to Congress.
In short, we propose the Executive require already-required transparency documents such as the Unified Agenda to at least come out on time. And we propose at least an informal check on agency rulemaking that asks agencies to look before they leap. Read the whole thing here.
Over at American Banker’s BankThink blog, I have a piece making the case for closing the Export-Import Bank, mostly on corruption grounds:
The Wall Street Journal reported on June 23 that four Ex-Im employees have been removed or suspended in recent months, “amid investigations into allegations of gifts and kickbacks.”
Former Ex-Im employee Johnny Gutierrez allegedly accepted cash payments from an executive of a Florida-based construction equipment manufacturer that has received Ex-Im financing on multiple occasions. In a July 28 congressional hearing, Gutierrez chose to plead the Fifth Amendment rather than deny the allegations. The other cases involve two “allegations of improperly awarding contracts to help run the agency” and another employee who accepted gifts from an Ex-Im suitor.
Read the whole thing here. There are, of course, many other reasons to close Ex-Im. I compiled some of them in a paper here.
When it comes to government transparency, more is better. As a general principle, the government should make public as many of its documents as possible (a principle CEI is currently litigating for against a number of agencies). Despite transparency shortcomings elsewhere, a bright spot since 1950 has been the Commerce Department’s National Technical Information Service (NTIS). The NTIS collects a slew of scientific and technical government documents from a variety of agencies, and offers them for sale to the public. But a new bill from Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Ok.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) would eliminate the NTIS altogether.
Why would Senators as outspoken on transparency issues as Coburn and McCaskill favor eliminating an agency that does nothing but increase transparency? Because for some years now, the NTIS has unofficially been part of the federal government’s Department of Redundancy Department. As National Journal notes, “the Government Accountability Office has asked NTIS to stop selling its reports, as that agency posts them on its own site for free.”
Coburn and McCaskill’s bill, the Let Me Google That For You Act, makes that point in its very name. The NTIS doesn’t just charge people for documents that can be found for free with a simple Google search. It also has a staff of 150 and a $66 million budget, which modern technology has rendered completely wasteful.
Transparency is a crucial part of good governance, and for a long time the NTIS played an important role. But times have changed, and its services are now being performed for free by other means. It’s time for the NTIS to close up shop.
For bonus fun, you watch Coburn and McCaskill grill NTIS Director Bruce Borzino in a recent hearing.