MARC CHASE: Hoosier fiscal wisdom needed in Washington

2013-12-24T00:00:00Z MARC CHASE: Hoosier fiscal wisdom needed in WashingtonMarc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
December 24, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Though all the moves haven't resonated as popular with the predominantly left-leaning government leaders of Lake County, it's hard to argue with the taxpayer-friendly streamlining Indiana has witnessed under fiscally conservative leadership in Indianapolis.

So it's fitting a Hoosier U.S. senator is helping lead the charge in bringing a piece of Indiana's commonsense efficiency to the federal government level.

Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., deserves praise for attacking a portion — albeit a small one in the grand scheme — of wasteful and redundant government in our nation's capital.

A bill he is co-sponsoring to consolidate the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Department of Labor into one agency — with one pool of shared resources — won't eliminate the obscene amounts of waste to which we've grown accustomed in Washington. But it's absolutely a step in the right direction.

By themselves in 2012, the Commerce Department had 35,013 employees and the Labor Department another 15,705 employees.

The Department of Commerce's fiscal year 2014 budget request is $8.6 billion, while the Labor Department is seeking $12.1 billion.

To be fair, both agencies perform important functions in our society. The Labor Department, among other duties, seeks to enforce laws pertaining to fair workplace practices, conditions, pay and overtime rules.

The Commerce Department is charged with promoting job and economic growth and development, improved standards of living for U.S. workers and other economic benchmarks.

But these two agencies have goals that should never be mutually exclusive. About 100 years ago, these functions were all part of one agency, created in 1903 under then Republican President Theodore Roosevelt.

President William Howard Taft — responding to union criticism that the goals of promoting business interests while also ensuring fair wages and working conditions somehow should exist in separate vacuums — divided the agencies in 1913.

Today, it's a division of duties and resources we can ill afford. Coats and the newly drafted bill's chief sponsor, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., propose to keep the duties of the two separate agencies independent of one another in the new consolidated agency.

Duplicating administrative and support offices and overlapping programs, however, would fall to the ax of fiscal responsibility.

I suspect billions could be saved on the federal level if fiscally minded leaders in Washington explored the similar veins and possibilities for consolidation among other agencies as well.

I'm sure the push won't be easy for Coats and Burr. Indianapolis has been trying to push better government on the bloated government bastions of Lake County for years with limited success. And that's a much smaller push than federal fiscal reform.

But it's a move in the right direction. It would be all the more fitting if such reform occurs first with federal agencies that oversee the nation's business and labor climate.

Investigative Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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