Friday, May 2, 2014

One Question Begs Three

U.S. Department of Repetitive Redundancy Department

At a hearing of the House Small Business Committee early this week, California Rep. Nydia Velazquez asked Small Business Administration (SBA) officials:

"What gap are you filling that the private sector is not?"

Which tees up my follow-on questions: "What are you doing that duplicates what you and other agencies are doing?" and "What should we be doing that the private sector cannot?"

A partial answer to my first question – that of duplicative efforts – was offered in the hearing. As covered by Washington Post reporter J.D. Harrison, California Rep. Judy Chu pointed out that SBA's Boots to Business program for returning veterans was similar to other SBA programs like the Veteran Business Opportunity Centers and Small Business Development Centers.

SBA probably doesn't know what other agencies are doing since it doesn't know (or want to acknowledge) how it duplicates its own efforts. Though SBA is dispersed widely throughout the United States with 10 regional and 65 district offices, responsibility for duplication and waste must come back to managers in Washington headquarters. (BTW – I bet that most Members of Congress don't gripe about having a SBA office in their district any more than they'd complain about a military base.)

Cross-agency management responsibility lays with Congress but I'm not sure they're up to the task. As written previously, I think that there are too many departments and too many Congressional committees to implement good management practices and oversight. And while our Congressman is a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the committee seems more a sandbox for political squabbling and grandstanding than a forum for serious introspection and thoughtful change. (As a testament to duplication and inefficiency, the committee maintains two websites: one for the majority party, one for the minority party.)

So for all the finger pointing and wagging, Congress has no one to blame but itself. If it can't manage a small agency like SBA, how can it possibly manage the Social Security Administration? If it can't be bothered to demand an accounting of similar programs within one agency, how can it be expected to manage overlap between behemoth Defense and Veteran Affairs departments?

Which brings us back to my second question: What should the U.S. Government be doing that the private sector cannot? Or, maybe first, what should the government stop doing that it's already doing over and over again?